By Joanne Bosworth and Jennifer Asman
2020 has not turned out as planned. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact populations around the world, governments have been forced to take a fresh look at their spending and how to meet additional costs of pandemic response as they expect a fall in revenue. Budget information has become even more critical.
When it comes to children, it is important to have a detailed view of spending in key areas like health, education, social protection and water and sanitation. Without this, it is difficult to know what services are supported or how money has been spent.
Although total spending on health has increased in many countries as part of the COVID-19 response, in many cases, funding for essential basic services like routine immunization has been cut, increasing the risk to children’s lives.
Access to quality budget information has enabled UNICEF to keep advocating for and supporting governments by avoiding cuts to essential investments in children’s futures. Here are a few examples:
Myanmar: When the Government of Myanmar was developing a supplementary budget for its COVID-19 response, UNICEF used the budget information on health, education and social protection presented to parliament, to make the case for protecting and expanding spending on critical programmes.
By reviewing proposed allocations and prioritizing immunization, social welfare and safe and healthy school environments, we developed an analysis that was instrumental in increasing the government’s budget in all three sectors by $176 million by mid-year.
Tunisia: After the collapse of global oil prices, the Tunisian government reduced fuel subsidies. Using information on funding for these subsidies, UNICEF demonstrated that child grants would bring greater benefit to poor children. In line with this analysis, the government also launched temporary cash transfers for at least 623,000 families with children.
Somaliland: Through the UN Joint Programme on Local Governance and Decentralized Service Delivery, UNICEF supports the use of “community scorecards” in Somaliland to monitor decentralized services such as water and sanitation, and the maintenance of community health and education infrastructure.
Communities provide real time SMS feedback to elected officials, strengthening oversight, which in turn can help inform better budget planning.
The economic fallout of COVID-19
As the pandemic continues, the impact on children is increasingly evident. As a result of disrupted schooling, according to the World Bank, children stand to lose the equivalent of $872 of their future earnings per year— a global loss of over $10 trillion.
Progress on infant mortality will be set back by between five and 15 years; and deaths from malaria are predicted to go back to pre-2000 levels with children-under-5 accounting for 70% of them. An additional 150 million children could be pushed into poverty.
We need urgent efforts to ensure children are protected from this long-term economic impact. This means ensuring vital social spending, and that funds are used effectively to help children and their families cope with and adapt to these new economic conditions.
Challenges in budget transparency have existed since before the pandemic. The 2019 Open Budget Survey examined sector budget transparency in education and health budgets in 28 countries.
While almost half of those countries provided complete information on spending objectives and how much funding was allocated to specific programmes, most provided partial information. A majority provided no information on how spending was distributed across different districts or provinces.
Essential to recovery
As the Myanmar, Tunisia and Somaliland examples show, improved budget transparency is not only central to an inclusive recovery but also encourages governments and partners to come together to identify more effective ways to achieve policy outcomes.
It is vital to monitoring spending, improving efficiency and ensuring resources are used effectively. This is particularly important now that many governments are making adjustments to spending plans or using emergency provisions where new programmes need not go through normal budget processes or controls. Making detailed, accurate and easy-to-understand spending plans transparent means citizens can monitor progress and highlight problems early on.
Building a resilient future
We are living in unprecedented times where every national and local government is forced to adapt and learn. Clear data on budgets, reprioritization and implementation of budgets will help us understand the impact of spending decisions on children’s lives.
UNICEF continues to work with governments and partners including the International Budget Partnership: to promote more open and transparent budgets, build this knowledge into longer-term recovery programmes and improve the resilience of systems and services for the future.
Joanne Bosworth is Chief of Public Finance and Local Governance at UNICEF.
Jennifer Asman is Public Finance Policy Specialist at UNICEF.
Source: Inter Press Service (IPS)