The invitation for new SAFE Trust Fund applications is now open until 7 March 2016
What is SAFE?
2016. A new year and a new emphasis on data-driven performance for local government. Cities are accelerating at a fast pace to put data to use. Not just to understand what’s happening on the street level, also to improve service delivery systems.
Until recently, Boston’s Department of public works kept track of jobs on paper. And there was no efficient system to track what jobs were done and what needed to be done.
But that has changed.
Over the last couple of years a small team of us have worked on an initiative to incorporate the regular, systematic feedback of citizens into the design and execution of World Bank programs. I would like to share some of our experiences working together with governments, civil society organizations and citizens in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa on this citizen engagement initiative.
First, citizen engagement is not new. For instance, the early work by Robert Chambers, “The Origins and Practice of Participatory Rural Appraisal and Michael Cernea’s “Putting People First” date from 1980s and early 90s and were quite inspirational for many of us who have worked issues of gathering and acting on citizen feedback.
At the same time, something important has changed. There has been an increasing demand by civil society and citizens to have a greater say in public decision-making, and a desire among many governments to be more inclusive and responsive to citizens’ needs. Also, the rise of innovations in technology has provided citizens with new and unprecedented opportunities to directly engage policy makers and demonstrated the potential to facilitate “Closing the Feedback Loop” between citizen and governments.
They spend hours waiting in line at tax offices.
In March 2014, with support of the World Bank, a Delivery Unit (DU) was set up in the Romanian Prime Minister’s Chancellery. Its mission: Get better results quicker for the PM in four priority areas.
Tax administration was one of them. The PM’s concern was the pain of paying taxes. Offering online services, for the first time, was one of the ways to decrease the cost of compliance. The DU estimated that they could save the taxpayer up to 12 days a year of waiting at the tax office.
The DU’s role was to plan for these improvements together with the Romanian Ministry of Public Finance and the Tax Administration Agency (NAFA). In a Delivery Agreement, the specific targets, metrics, activities, deadlines and responsibilities were spelled out. The DU was to then monitor the progress monthly against an agreed trajectory and help unblock problems in implementation.
In September 2014, the NAFA launched the online taxpayer platform called Private Virtual Space (PVS). It allows taxpayers to file their tax returns, get their tax bills and see their payments. The target was to enroll 30% of the eligible taxpayers by December 2015. Though the DU tracked progress monthly, the enrollment rate was still at 0.6% in June 2015. Clearly, the monitoring on its own did not help.
In today’s world, international aid is fickle, financial flows unstable, and many donor countries are facing domestic economic crises themselves, driving them to apply resources inward. In this environment, developing countries need inner strength. They need inner stability. And they deserve the right to chart their own futures.
This is within their grasp, and last week the launch of an unassuming-but-powerful tool marked an important step forward in this quiet independence movement. It’s called the TADAT, or Tax Administration Diagnostic Assessment Tool. At first glance, this tool may look inscrutable, technical, and disconnected from development. But listen.
Sustainable development was once thought of as primarily a concern for the poorer, so-called “developing” countries. Today, with industrial civilization spreading across the entire world, devouring ever more resources and emitting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, economists believe wealthy countries too are in a sense still “developing” ones. Life on Earth will not survive in its current form if lifestyle of the northern countries remains as it is and extends across the planet.
That is the spirit behind the Bertelsmann Foundation’s latest report on wealthy country’s progress on fulfilling Sustainable Development Goals. Recent developments have often not been pretty. Many countries have stuck to energy-intensive economic models, and inequality has been rising almost everywhere, with economic elites getting an ever-larger part of the pie, while working and middle classes decline.
The adoption of governance focused SDG #16 and its targets is being claimed a great victory for proponents of good governance.
All UN member states approved the goal to “build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels” and committed to develop action plans to achieve targets that “substantially reduce corruption”, practice “responsive, inclusive and participatory decision making”, and “ensure public access to information.”
On the surface this appears to be a major paradigm shift from the MDGs.
A closer examination suggests that these intentions have a caveat that may weaken the supposed shift in the political economy of governance for development. All of these commitments are subject to national legislations that vary broadly in scope in terms of access to information, public participation and strength of anti-corruption policies and institutions. Moreover, governments involved have different opinions on what key concepts such as rule of law, fundamental freedoms, and accountable institutions mean.