Navigating social sector allocations in national budget to ensure a better future for children
UNICEF initiatives to address and overcome implementation challenges
In June 2023, the National Parliament of Bangladesh approved the national budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year. The budget was guided by the recovery of the economy impacted by COVID-19 and the macroeconomic challenges due to rising commodity prices. In this context, it was paramount to conduct a detailed review of allocations for the social sector in relation to national investment targets and the well-being of children.
Considering these factors, UNICEF facilitated a high-level discussion with government officials, donors, development partners, civil society organizations (CSOs) and INGOs. The Roundtable Discussion, titled ‘Social Sector Allocations in the Budget for FY2023-24: Overcoming Implementation Challenges’, served as a platform for participants to exchange ideas and provide recommendations to improve implementation of the budget, leveraging the already outlined social sector allocations in the budget.
Analysing trends in budget utilization
During this event, UNICEF presented the trends and analysis of budget implementation over the last five years. The discussants identified barriers which impede the implementation of the social sector allocations. This analysis showed that over 15 per cent of the original budget allocations has remained unspent due to several procedural and systemic reasons.
On one hand, when it comes to budget utilization, Ministry of Social Welfare and Ministry of Women and Children Affairs show almost full utilization of allocated funds. At the same time, despite showing remarkable progress in key health outcomes such as maternal mortality and under-five mortality, divisions under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare have faced challenges in budget utilization. There are notable accomplishments in the domains of education and social protection, such as almost 100 per cent primary school enrolment and a boost in the number of beneficiaries for the Mother and Child Benefit Programme. However, rushed spending towards the end of the fiscal year poses a risk to the quality of projects. Analysis of last five years’ expenditure reveals that nearly half of the total expenditure takes place in the last quarter, with the final month accounting for about 30 per cent of total spending.
Challenges in implementing allocated budget
“Only budget allocation for children is not enough. The quality of services for children should be at the center of the discourse and monitoring the execution of the budget should be a top priority”, said Ishrat Shabnam, Programme Manager, Private Sector - Social Protection and Green Energy Transition, European Union Delegation to Bangladesh.
The Government of Bangladesh has been striving to strengthen its budget implementation measures over the last few years. The Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) identified several reasons behind the low implementation rates. These include challenges at the design phase itself like inadequate contextual analysis, inappropriate budgeting, and the lack of proper assessment of implementing agency’s capacity. Challenges during the implementation phase also include leadership discontinuity, setbacks in getting approvals, and delays in land acquisition for infrastructure. Dilruba Shaheena, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Finance, highlighted that the lack of required skills and expertise has also hindered the implementation of budget.
Towards a strengthened mechanism
The key recommendations that emerged from the discussions for overcoming these challenges were a comprehensive approach to project management and implementation, the introduction of effective project monitoring tools and proactive fund utilization mechanisms. All these elements are essential for better public expenditure, which can secure a better future for the children of Bangladesh.
Concluding the discussions, Sheldon Yett, UNICEF’s Representative to Bangladesh reaffirmed that “UNICEF and partners are committed to contributing to the Government’s efforts to further strengthen planning, monitoring and coordinating mechanisms”.
UNICEF expresses its sincere gratitude to the European Union for co-funding this initiative, aiming towards ensuring that the right investments are made at the right time for the well-being of children.