Response to the Open Working Group’s “Zero Draft rev 1” on Sustainable Development Goals

The International Budget Partnership response to the Open Working Group’s “Zero Draft rev 1” on Sustainable Development Goals

The International Budget Partnership (IBP)collaborates with civil society around the world to ensure that scarce public resources are used to reduce poverty and promote effective governance. Our experience, as well as a growing body of evidence, shows that when citizens have access to information and opportunities to participate in the policy and budget process they can help to improve service delivery and strengthen oversight, resulting in substantive improvements in poverty and development outcomes.

The IBP andits civil society partners from over 50 countries congratulate the United Nations’ Open Working Group (OWG) on the latest draft of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  We endorse the recommended goals and targets in the revised zero draft that emphasize greater transparency, public participation (16.4), and accountability (16.9) in development efforts, in particular target 16.7 that seeks to “promote free and easy access to information, freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.”

We are, however, extremely concerned about the removal of the specific reference to access to information on public financial management, procurement, and national development plans from the list of enumerated targets in focus area 16. The previous version of the zero draft included the following specific target: “by 2020 improve public access to information and government data, including on public finance management, public procurement and on the implementation of national development plans.” Unfortunately, this text no longer appears in the draft issued on 30 June 2014.

This memo sets out the basis of our concern and proposes two alternative solutions to address the issue.

What is at stake?

Defining the next generation of international development goals is an incredible opportunity to harness the energy and leverage the political will of governments, civil society, and other development actors to build on the successes of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and address some of their shortcomings. To achieve the SDGs governments will need to raise and spend public funds in a more equitable and effective manner. To support this process, the public and other stakeholders – domestic and international – will need better access to detailed and timely information on government plans, actual investments, and results. Without ensuring that this information is available at the start and during the implementation of the SDGs, it will be almost impossible to monitor progress and hold governments accountable for reaching their targets.

This is a major problem with the current MDGs. Many countries that signed the MDG declaration, including those with access to information legislation in place, did not publish sufficient information on their MDG-related investments and outcomes. To this day we do not know what investments these countries made for which MDGs, and with what results, nor can we accurately establish the total investment and results for any one or all MDGs. This lack of information compromised the ability of domestic and international stakeholders to monitor and hold governments to account for their MDG commitments, and undermined our capacity to learn about what strategies worked or did not work. If these practices continue, they will threaten the success of the next generation of development goals.

We urge you to consider this lesson in order to ensure that the SDG framework fully supports the potential for success. The OWG document proposes that a general target requiring an improvement in public access to information will be sufficient to ensure accountable governance. While a similar target is an essential in creating an enabling environment for holding governments accountable, it is far too general to ensure that they are able in practice to monitor what their governments are doing to improve development outcomes. The risk of having countries achieve this target by improving access to some information five or ten years from now, while impeding regular monitoring of their performance in the meantime, is too high for both domestic and international stakeholders, and could greatly undermine the SDG enterprise and spirit.

What are the solutions?

In order to effectively monitor – and thereby improve – government performance, timely and detailed information on government plans, investments, and outcomes will be required from the very beginning of the process. A general access to information requirement will inevitably lead to uneven and staggered access to information across countries. Instead, we think an international solution that builds on existing standards for reporting of public finances provides a much more effective way to ensure that the specific information required for monitoring and learning is available from the start of the process in 2015.  There is broad agreement among international financial institutions, governments, donors and civil society about what information governments should provide to enable accountability for development commitments. Much of this information is already collected by governments, though it is often not shared publicly. Moreover, with adequate technical support governments can learn to collect this information relatively quickly.

Building on these international standards, we offer two alternative options to the OWG to promote adequate transparency on public finances and development outcomes. The first is for the OWG to reinstate the need to provide information on plans, financing, procurement and results in its list of enumerated targets in focus area 16. This will ensure that all governments that sign on to the SDGs also commit to providing public information that will enable both monitoring and learning. Further elaboration of the specific data required can be itemized in the indicators associated with this focus area.

The second, which could be even more effective, is for the OWG to consider the inclusion of specific cross-cutting transparency targets against all the goals included in the post-2015 framework. This would require all governments to report publicly and regularly on spending, outputs, and results achieved against each SDG.

For example, if the goal to achieve universal primary education were to be confirmed, governments would then have to produce and publish detailed information on planned and actual spending devoted to the primary education subsector (e.g., teacher salaries, teacher training, school materials, infrastructure for primary education, and so on), on activities and outputs (e.g., teachers recruited and trained, delivery of school material, primary schools built, and so on), and on results achieved (e.g., enrollment levels, test results, literacy levels, and so on).

Of course, not all governments have the same capacity to collect and publish this kind of data. Such a target would be designed to ensure that all governments provide at least the basic information required to measure inputs and outcomes. Governments with greater capacity could be encouraged to provide data that surpasses this minimum threshold. In order to minimize additional reporting burden on countries, the above data could be provided as part of the government’s ongoing policy and budget cycle.

Ideally, and where possible, these reporting mechanisms should include resources obtained through development assistance. In any case, donor agencies and other development actors should publish such information separately and provide it to recipient governments in formats that are compatible with country systems.

We hope that you will recognize the importance of the issues at stake, both for country-level accountability and for international monitoring and learning efforts. We thank you for your consideration and urge you to contact us if we can answer any additional questions.


International Budget Partnership

Organizations and Individuals Calling for the Inclusion of a Target on Transparency in Public Finance Management and Procurement in Sustainable Development Goals

Afghanistan: Integrity Watch Afghanistan

Algeria: Association Nationale de Finances Publiques

Armenia:Transparency International Anti-corruption Center NGO

Azerbaijan: Public Finance Monitoring Center

Bangladesh: Centre on Budget and Policy, University of Dhaka

Botswana: Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis

Brazil: Instituto de EstudosSócioeconômicos

Bulgaria: Industry Watch Group

Burkina Faso: Centre Pour La GouvernanceDémocratique

Cambodia: The NGO Forum on Cambodia

Cameroon: Budget Information Centre

Colombia: Grupo de Investigación de Ciudadanía y FinanzasPublicas

Côte d’Ivoire: Social Justice

Dominican Republic: FundaciónSolidaridad

Ecuador: Grupo FARO

Egypt: Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights

Equatorial Guinea: SensacionJovendelFuturo

France: Association pour la FondationInternationale de Finances

Ghana: SEND-Ghana

Guatemala: El Centro Internacional para Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos

Hungary: Fiscal Responsibility Institute

India: National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights

India: Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability

Indonesia: Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency

Iraq: Iraq Institute for Economic Reform

Kazakhstan: Sange Research Center

Liberia: Actions for Genuine Democratic Alternatives

Malawi: Malawi Economic Justice Network

Mexico: Fundar, Centro de Analisis e Investigacion, A.C.

Myanmar: Spectrum

Namibia: Institute for Public Policy Research

New Zealand: Jonathan Dunn

Niger: Alternative EspacesCitoyens

Nigeria: Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre

Pakistan: Omar Asghar Khan Development Foundation

Peru: CAD Ciudadanos al Día
Philippines: Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism

Poland: University of Krakov

Sao Tome e Principe:

Senegal: Grouped’Etude, de Recherche et d’Action pour le Developpement

Sierra Leone: Budget Advocacy Network

Slovakia: MESA 10

South Africa: Public Service Accountability Monitor
South Korea: Korea Institute of Public Finance

Sri Lanka: Verité Research

Sweden: Accountability and Transparency for Human Rights

Tajikistan: Open Society Institute—Assistance Foundation in Tajikistan

Tanzania: HakiElimu

Tanzania: Policy Forum

Trinidad and Tobago: University of West Indies

Tunisia: Union GénéraleTunisienne du Travail

United Kingdom: Joachim Wehner, London School of Economics

Venezuela: Transparencia Venezuela