SDGs and budgetary approaches

Dhaka,  Thu,  24 August 2017
Published : 09 Jul 2017, 20:51:38

SDGs and budgetary approaches

Muhammad Abdul Mazid
Bangladesh needs to internalise the ambitious goals and targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with national planning process and allocate necessary funds accordingly in national budgets. Availing adequate funds will be a major challenge, and therefore, the country needs effective resource mobilisation and active monitoring mechanism to achieve SDGs. 

Bangladesh did very well in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) but the SDGs are quite different and complex. It will require more effort in resource mobilisation, monitoring the implementation and developing necessary infrastructures to reach the targets.

During the period of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Bangladesh achieved "remarkable progresses in the areas of poverty alleviation, ensuring food security, primary school enrolment, gender parity in primary and secondary level education, lowering the infant and under-five mortality rate and maternal mortality ratio, improving immunization coverage; and reducing the incidence of communicable diseases" (UNDP, 2015). Such achievements are largely attributable to the resilience and creativity of the Bangladeshi people in finding innovative and low cost solutions and empowering individual "agency," especially of women (Mahmud, Asadullah & Savoia, 2013).

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are more ambitious and will be more challenging to achieve. In addition, Bangladesh faces many daunting challenges, including climate change, automation, corruption, governance failures, institutional weaknesses, confrontational politics and growing violence which threaten its future progress. Thus, for achieving SDGs, institutions will have to function, communities will have to work together, peace and justice will have to prevail, governance will have to improve and environmental sustainability will have to be ensured.

Although primary accountability for the SDGs belongs to the government, the SDGs explicitly call for action by local authorities. At least 12 of the 17 SDGs - all excepting 9, 12, 13, 14 and 17 - require integrated strategies at the community level to overcome the interlinked challenges of poverty, ill-health, social ills, poor governance and environmental destruction. Fortunately, Bangladesh's constitution wisely places key responsibilities for social and economic development, including "the preparation and implementation of plans relating to public services and economic development" at the level closest to the people," with the local government bodies, particularly the Union Parishad (UP), the body at the doorstep of the people (Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, 1971, Article 59(2)(C)). This constitutional mandate makes it imperative that Bangladesh localise the SDGs - that is, it must equip the  closest local body of the people (UPs in rural and Ward in the urban locations) with the skills and resources to analyze their local situation, set priorities for each of the relevant SDGs, and track and report their progress.

The Local Government (UP) Act of 2009 strengthens local government by incorporating global best practices for direct participation by active citizens in planning and social accountability, through ward shava for participatory planning, citizen charter, open budget meetings and annual reporting.

SDG 16 - the goal that makes all goals possible - explicitly calls for "peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels" (which includes the community level). Target 16.7 is to "ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels." Goal 16 is, therefore, the crown-jewel of the SDGs and the achievement of other goals depends on it. SDG Target 16.7 requires citizen's voice in decision making, which for most citizens can only effectively happen at the grass roots  level. (Coonrod, 2016).  Partnership between: (1) the people, (2) their elected representatives at the local level, (3) a civil society created from the ground up, and (4) the government functionaries responsible for delivering services to the grassroots will be an abiding strategy to take forward.

People at the grassroots level, including women and youth, are awakened and mobilised to make them active as citizens and take action to achieve SDGs. Mobilisation of people creates "social capital," which can make up for lack of "financial capital," and can be used for solving many social problems through social movements and social resistance. Community members carry out various campaigns to combat social ills such as child marriage, violence against women, substance abuse, and environmental degradation. 

The MDGs were designed to get us halfway to a world free from hunger and poverty. The SDGs aspire to finish the job. This makes it necessary to transform promising gender-focused community-led development approaches such as the SDG Union Strategy into full national programmes. Since the process of achieving the 2030 goals will take many years, Bangladesh will need to take urgent steps to bring gender-focused community-led development to all unions by 2020. This is consistent with the recommendations of the well known study by Jachimowicz, Chafik, Munrat, Prabhu, & Weber (2017) that the policy to end poverty "should move beyond  the sole focus on the low-income individual and instead provide additional emphasis on the low income community." 

In this context Participatory budgeting (PB) which is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making is worth mentioning. Participatory budgeting (PB) allows citizens to identify, discuss and prioritise public spending projects, and gives them the power to make real decisions about how money is to be spent. PB processes are typically designed to involve those left out of traditional methods of public engagement, such as low-income residents, non-citizens and youths. Boadly, all participatory budgeting schemes allow citizens to deliberate with the goal of creating either a concrete financial plan (a budget), or a recommendation to elected representatives.

PB generally involves several basic steps:

1. Community members identify spending priorities and select budget delegates

2. Budget delegates develop specific spending proposals, with help from experts

3. Community members vote on which proposals to fund

4. The city or institution implements the top proposals

However, reviewing the experience in Brazil and Porto Alegre, a World Bank paper points out that lack of representation of extremely poor people in participatory budgeting can be a shortcoming. Participation of the very poor and of the young is highlighted as a challenge. Participatory budgeting may also struggle to overcome existing clientelism. Other observations include that particular groups are less likely to participate once their demands have been met and that slow progress of public works can frustrate participants. 

On overall review of the Budget 2017-18, it has been observed that it has not prescribed anything tangible for job creation, which is crucially linked with so many SDGs. Half of the country's eligible workforce is now unemployed due to a number of factors including absence of enough employment-generating sectors, lack of skill development programmes and improper distribution of fiscal incentives. Although a good number of people enter the job market every year, enough employment opportunities are not created to absorb them. So, increased fiscal allocation was needed along with conversion of untapped portion of the demographic dividend into resources.

 According to Bangladesh Labour Force Survey 2013, the country has a workforce of 106 million. Fifty-eight million of the workforce are economically active. Around 17 million of them are women. Of the active labour base, more than 86 per cent are involved with informal sector like household activities, agriculture, construction and hawking. The highest number of labour force is involved in agriculture (45.1 per cent), followed by service sector (34.1 per cent) and industrial activities (20.8 per cent). This time the  Budget did neither prescribe anything about introduction of  district budget nor anything specific for boosting private sector investment, which alone could create more jobs for the growing unemployed population. 

Dr Muhammad Abdul Mazid is a Former Secretary and Chairman, NBR.

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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