Participatory Budgeting Policy Note Launch – October 14th, 2016

Participatory Budgeting Policy Note Launch

The Renaissance Institute launched a policy note on participatory reforms in the budget process. This note was meant to jumpstart discussion about reform strategies to increase public and civil society participation in government budgeting at both the Union-level and subnational levels. Increased participation can make the budget process more open, transparent and accountable, which can lead to better public financial management outcomes and increased access to and trust in government institutions – a long laggard aspect of civic culture in Myanmar.

The policy note was presented to an audience that included local civil society institutions, members of Parliament, the media, international institutions, and other actors interested in supporting the reform process.

The note provided a roadmap to a long-term strategy for reform, and also introduced two simple reforms for the government to begin this process with the next budget. First, the note recommends the release of a Union-level pre-budget statement (PBS) that explains the government’s main priorities reflected in the budget. Second, it calls for the government to empower a group of civil society organizations to diffuse the PBS, educate the public on its meaning, and to communicate public input to the government to help it revise the budget proposal. This civil society group can then develop capacity to oversee more comprehensive participatory reform in the future.

The presentation was followed by a panel discussion of the policy note and some of the implications of the two proposed reforms for the next budget. The panel included Dr. Kim Ninh, country representative from The Asia Foundation, Professor Conrad from Duke University and U Myo Myint, the Executive Director of the Renaissance Institute.

Dr. Ninh stressed the role that increased participation can play in legitimizing decentralization and strengthening subnational institutions. This process of decentralization is just beginning in Myanmar, and so a helpful starting point for increasing participation is to build budgeting capacity for state and region policymakers, who can then help to facilitate more public feedback. RI and The Asia Foundation have set out to begin this work by providing trainings to state and region parliaments on public financial management.

Dr. Conrad focused on the necessity of implementing simple reforms for the next budget to kick-start a longer reform process and show government commitment to substantive change. In particular, he stressed the need for a PBS that shares the proposed budget with the public; most important is that such a document is widely shared and feedback is encouraged and taken seriously as the budget proposal is revised by the Executive and as it is debated in Parliament.

Finally, U Myo Myint emphasized that the foundation for participation is weak in Myanmar. The first step to any reform is boosting budget literacy amongst all actors, and slowly implementing reform as is commensurate with capacity.

This policy note generated quite a bit of feedback from the audience. Many groups in Myanmar are already committed to budget monitoring and increasing participation in the various stages of the budget process. Renaissance hopes this event was just the start of a process of learning from their work and ideas. We will continue to gather feedback, and use it to shape a longer discussion paper on participatory reform that will be released in early 2017. It will take the rationale for reform and initial reform ideas presented in this policy note and expand upon how they can form the foundation for a comprehensive participatory reform strategy in Myanmar.

 Download the policy note

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