Making domestic resources work better for children
We work to maximize the size and impact of investment in sectors that are foundational to child well-being, while also ensuring that budget processes are both transparent and participatory.
As documented in the region’s performance on the Open Budget Index, national budget processes tend to be closed with very limited budget information produced in the public domain. This makes it both difficult to analyse investment in sectors that matter for children and to influence investment decisions at national and subnational levels.
Where information is accessible, few governments are meeting their financial commitments to key social sectors, either in budget priority or in investment levels.
Even where social sectors are afforded a large share of the budget, the low revenue base makes it impossible for most governments to achieve minimum spending levels.
The design of social sector budgets is another barrier. For example, spending on the health and education sectors tends to favour tertiary services while neglecting basic and catalytic investment, such as for primary healthcare, nutrition and pre-primary education services. Elsewhere, social protection budgets frequently prioritize regressive interventions, like subsidies, providing only minimal support for pro-poor social transfers, while investment in the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) sector is heavily skewed toward infrastructure development with little funding for operations and maintenance activities that are critical to ensuring the sustainability of services. Equity concerns further reverberate across all social sector budgets, as investment is normally concentrated in geographic areas and populations that are better off.
The performance of social sector budgets is an additional challenge. Take budget credibility, which measures the relationship between the amount of resources approved at the start of the fiscal year and the amount actually spent at the end of the year. Across the region, low social sector budget credibility rates are a recurring trend, especially for capital (or development) items, indicating a range of planning, disbursement and execution bottlenecks. Wastage is also commonly observed – this can occur when services or benefits are provided multiple times to the same person or to ineligible persons and/or when governments overpay when procuring certain goods and services.
In Eastern and Southern Africa, UNICEF’s efforts to make budgets work better for children are guided by a simple framework to identify opportunities and prioritize support at the country level. For sectors that matter most for children, this includes:
- Measure and monitor investment
- Maximize the impact of investment
- Increase investment
The framework is summarized below, which presents the three areas of engagement along with guiding questions that are further linked to strategic objectives.
In each area of engagement, evidence generation is typically the starting point for supporting Ministries of Finance and social sector line ministries on public finance issues. This then informs advocacy and advice to address specific challenges across the budget cycle. Once there is consensus on the corrective actions that need be taken, UNICEF country offices provide a mix of technical assistance as well as capacity development and systems strengthening services, while also monitoring progress.
Focusing on evidence generation activities, a selection of public finance analyses recently supported by UNICEF in the region are presented through the below links.