Advocacy

In Kerala, both the print and electronic media scrutinize the budget only 2-3 days before and after the presentation of the annual state budget. Public debates occur only on those topics that affect the largest consumers of these media. The so-called technical analyses during pre-budget and post-budget discussions are not independent of ideological politics. Politicians and policy experts talk in terms of targets achieved or missed depending on the side of the political spectrum that they are on.

The budgeting process involves four stages: preparation, enactment, implementation and review. The first stage rarely involves the participation of the people. Most pre-budget consultations in the state and in the country as a whole are hardly participatory and usually involve only the traders and the business elites. Even these consultations take place right before the presentation of the budget when it is more or less finalized. An ideal participatory budgeting process should involve stakeholders from civil society at every stage so that the engagement with the government and elected leaders occur throughout the year.

Effective transparency is not merely the availability of information, but also empowering the citizens to make use of the information. Capacity building workshops can be used to disseminate information on the intricacies of the budgeting process to the people as well as to enhance the political perspective, information, knowledge and skill of ordinary people to understand the budget and to advocate for effective public services. This is particularly important as the budget allocation through local government institutions have significantly increased and a better information and capacity of the members of the local government as well as the people at the grassroots level will enable not only effective expenditure but also effective tracking of the expenditure to ensure that the quality, effectiveness and efficiency of public services like health, education, water and sanitation, infrastructure development, environmental protection and employment. Once the people are empowered with information, knowledge and perspectives about their rights and responsibilities, governments can be held more accountable.

Advocacy with the government, particularly with the Kerala State Finance Ministry to ensure full transparency, accountability and participation in the budget process would involve the following:

1) Extending the multi-stakeholder network of actors in policy, politics, media, activism and academics (SABAN);

2) Organising a series of seminars across Kerala on Budget transparency, accountability and people’s participation, in partnership with civil society and academic institutions;

3) Building a network of budget analysts across Kerala and publish working papers- focusing on budget analysis and accountability in
the context of Kerala. Each of the papers will become background documents for the envisaged seminars. The papers will be jointly published by ISDG and SABAN and reports of the seminar will also be published further disseminated through www.keralabudgetwatch.org and also to MLAs, government secretaries, the media, network of CBGA and through social media such as facebook and twitter; and

4) Building a team of trainers to ensure a network of people competent to do budget training in different parts of Kerala.