Mauritius – People Budget Transparency Portal.
Participatory Governance and Citizens’ Engagement -
Moving towards a “People Budgeting Process”
With globalization and liberalization, coupled with democratization and the unprecedented information technology revolution, the roles of Governments and socio-economic actors have changed significantly.
From a direct role in delivery, Governments are now beginning to act as facilitators. At the same time, citizens are demonstrating a far greater interest in public affairs and committing themselves to contributing more actively to the socio-economic development of their country. Furthermore, the changing role of government and rising expectations on the part of citizens are giving way to a new dynamic order to address citizens’ needs.
Therefore, new and additional public participation mechanisms and institutions for citizens to engage in policymaking and share their inputs relating to decisions that will have an impact on their immediate future are necessary for they are a reflection of mature democracy.
With the rise and consolidation of the democratic movement, citizens in most countries are asking for a greater say in the policymaking processes of the State. Faced with new challenges of governance, many Governments are also making efforts at all levels to engage in dialogue with stakeholders, assimilate information and weigh public feedback from a variety of perspectives regarding the formulation, implementation and monitoring of public policies and programmes.
Popular participation in a society’s decision-making processes has many implications for economic growth and development, human rights, democracy, social capital, decentralized governance, efficiency of resource use, equity and social justice, and sustainable use of environmental resources, among others.
Citizens play many roles — as nationals of their country, inhabitants of their local community, members of their chosen networks of interests, family members, and so on. Participation and engagement help citizens to reconcile their multiple interests and explore trade-offs.
Participatory governance is of intrinsic value for it gives the opportunity to citizens to be involved in decisions that affect the quality of their lives. It is also of instrumental value, as the engagement of citizens may lead to public policies better grounded in reality, responsive services, transparency and accountability in the allocation and expenditure of public resources.
Citizens have an important role to play in driving the performance of governments to higher levels. Participatory governance results in gathering better feedback and more engagement with the intended beneficiaries of public policies and programmes. The improvement in the provision of public goods and services, in turn, can increase confidence in government and contribute to building public trust. Civic engagement and public trust are essential intangible assets, making up the social capital so critical to achieving higher levels of human development.
Good examples of civic engagement in public accountability come from a number of countries that are applying participatory governance methodologies in a variety of fields. For instance, citizen groups in South Africa now actively participate in budgeting and fiscal policy processes.
People Participation in the Budgeting Process
Budget transparency, public participation in the budget process, and strong formal oversight institutions need to work together to create a robust budget accountability ecosystem.
Public participation in budgeting is a relatively new concept in public financial management. Citizens engagement in shaping the national budget offers opportunities for people across a diverse range of groups to engage in discussions about what matters to them, their families and their communities. It is a vital part of a wider strategic approach to advancing people participation and empowerment. The dialogue between citizens and government must be continuous, open, inclusive, relevant, clear, secure and reliable.
Citizen engagement in the budget process is important for a number of reasons:
- Budget decisions have a significant impact on the lives of the public, and therefore should be informed by the views and values of citizens.
- Engaging citizens in the budget process increases the information available to decision makers concerning the likely effects of their decisions, and can help to guard against unintended consequences.
- The scrutiny of citizens can help to ensure that decision makers are diligent in the decisions they make, improving the efficiency, responsiveness and accountability of government.
- Through engaging citizens in the budget process, they can address the same trade- offs that decision makers are forced to make, and generate a more fruitful discussion between citizens and government.
- Engaging citizens in fundamental decisions, such as budget decisions, can help to overcome public distrust and cynicism, and increase the legitimacy of government.
- Citizen engagement can help to ensure that government is responsive to the needs, views and values of citizens.
- The process cannot be a one-way traffic, since tax payers have a right and duty to indicate how they would like their monetary contributions, in terms of budget allocations, apportioned to public welfare, amenities, infrastructure and sustainable development.
A number of countries have also moved towards “people budgeting” — citizen participation in the budgeting process. Interesting examples include, amongst many others:
- Canada - http://www.fin.gc.ca/n16/16-002-eng.asp
- United Kingdom - https://www.gov.uk/government/get-involved#engage-with government
- France - http://www.performance-publique.budget.gouv.fr ,
- A most innovative initiative in France was the launching of the Cyber Budget online game (www.cyber-budget.fr ). Cyber-Budget begins by introducing players to budget terminology. It presents them with a number of tasks that test knowledge of the budget and familiarise them with the political consequences of decisions. The player makes decisions, presents and defends the budget in parliament, and is then responsible for managing it as unanticipated events take place and affect fiscal outcomes. The player receives simulated criticism from the press, an accounting of the impact of his or her decisions on the deficit and debt, and a final score. As of April 2007, an estimated 400 000 people played.
Moving towards Digital Democracy - Setting up a People Budget Transparency Portal
The issues facing the Mauritian economy are more complex than before and they require high levels of cooperation with stakeholders, real-time interaction with communities and the public at large.
Difficult issues such as the opening up of the Mauritian economy, the combat against corruption, the relaxation of immigration and labour laws or the development of new economic sectors are better understood by organizing, measuring and weighing the effects of alternative policies and listening to all stakeholders. It is through systematic and meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders that Government can ensure that its national budget is aligned and in tune with the aspirations of the people and the nation as a whole.
In this context, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development is launching a “People Budget Transparency Portal” (PBTP), which will be an innovative online platform designed with the following objectives:
- Provide key public budget information in a summarised and user-friendly format and a one-stop shop platform that aggregates updated fiscal, financial and monetary information
- Provide and generate a wide range of sources of information in the form of studies, surveys, policy recommendations, qualitative and quantitative analysis of various economic issues
- Conduct an open, transparent and engaged pre-budget consultation process
- Open new channels of communication for the public input and provide opportunities to people to communicate directly with policy makers
- Consult the public, listen to and take account of people’s interests and concerns when establishing priorities, developing policies, and planning programs and services
- Encourage citizens’ constructive participation and dialogue in the budget process through online information, idea sharing, proposals, views, notes and comments: what would citizens like to see in the budget?
- Gather innovative ideas, new economic thinking and strategies to boost development, create new jobs, enhance the welfare of our people and promote better social inclusiveness, social justice and equity.
As access to technology becomes universal, citizens – especially the younger generation – expect to be able to find information with a few clicks of the mouse. The mantra of “anytime, anywhere, any device,” is increasingly setting the standard for how information and services are both delivered and received in a two-way exchange of information and ideas.
The “People Budget Transparency Portal” shall be a digital web-based platform using Facebook , a dedicated website , linkedin , mass emailing software and twitter to provide a number of features and services providing access, on one hand, to wide sources and types of information in various formats and, on the other hand, to numerous channels of communication for peer-to-peer or community based interactions. It shall make use of modern tools and technologies to adapt to an ever-changing digital landscape and deliver services to any device, anytime, anywhere.
The first phase of the “People Budget Transparency Portal” using a Facebook page shall be operational as from 2nd April 2016 and shall be led and moderated by Gerard Sanspeur , Senior Adviser to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.