Haven’t we been here before? Getting budgets to more perfectly reflect the policy priorities of government has long been the holy grail of budgeting in the public sector, but the reality of government budgeting is messy compromise. If the history of various countries efforts to promote policy coherence shows one thing clearly it is that the budget is the wrong tool to achieve this. Why is this and how can governments achieve greater coherence in support of higher level policy goals?
Is the timing ripe for President Obama and the U.S. Congress to begin making spending decisions based on what they wanted to achieve rather than on individual agencies and programs? That’s the premise of portfolio budgeting.
I voted in South Africa’s founding democratic election in 1994, but it was via an absentee ballot cast in downtown D.C. Last month, when voters came out on May 18th to elect their local governments, it was the first time I had actually been in the country for an election. Turnout was high – upwards of 70% in some of the more hotly contested municipalities.
The recent upheavals in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere have put asset recovery in the spotlight. Indeed, as the citizens of these countries look towards the future, recovering wealth that former public officials are alleged to have acquired illegally remains a main concern.
A well-held belief in development circles is that, in broad terms, transparency leads to greater accountability and often, as a result, reduced corruption. Yet when the Institute of Development Studies recently looked at the impact and effectiveness of transparency and accountability initiatives that aim to improve governance in various sectors, it pointed out that “growing evidence exists that transparency alone is insufficient, and only leads to greater accountability in interaction with other factors.”
Are we moving towards a global standard on contract transparency? At least in the extractive industries, there are signs that this might be the case. The Publish What You Pay coalitions from across Africa just concluded their regional conference in Kinshasa. Contract transparency was a dominant theme – civil society representatives seeing it as critical to their ability to ensure better deals and outcomes from oil, gas and mining investments.
The quality and availability of policy advice to state sector decision makers impacts considerably on the effectiveness of the state at any level of development. This has often been downplayed in global discussion of Public Sector Management where the emphasis has been understandably on service delivery and improved governance. The money spent on policy advice is small in relation to any state budget but it is high powered money if it is improving the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery.
During a recent ‘Justice for the Poor’ mission to Vanuatu, our team had an illuminating meeting with a group of forty village chiefs in a community hall. The chiefs are the primary source of order and justice across the many islands within the archipelago. Most of them have received little, if any, formal education, their authority resting on their traditional status within the community.