Open Budget –presupuestoabierto.gt– is a tool developed by Red Ciudadana (Citizen Network) in support of the Ministry of Finance for the fulfillment of the commitment of Open and Participative Budget of Open Government. This is an electronic platform that was used during the budget presentation period 2016, for each public institution to preset and justify its budget project and how they would use the funds. For presentations (produced by each Institution to display each item in detail), people could tune in the live presentation, and allowed users to comment via Facebook.
The objectives of this project were to contribute to making public the national budget and how each institution planned to invest the resources. It was definitely a key tool, since, although the presentation was made in a public building, there was an attendance limit. This platform allowed thousands of Guatemalans to observe the process and comment on it.
This marked a milestone, as it would represent the first pillar (which would be given subsequent continuation) of control, because it allows citizens to know how each institution plans to invest their tax money.
Stage in Fiscal Policy Cycle: Formulation.
Lead institution: Finance Ministry with the support of the civil society organization Red Ciudadana, which developed the tool.
Levels of Government involved: National
In Guatemala, one of the most serious problems has been the lack of voice channels for the population in almost all government processes. Therefore, the objective of incorporating public participation is mainly to promote a culture of transparency and accountability on the part of public officials, the culture of openness, and present a tool that serves as a voice channel for citizens.
To measure the progress and success in the implementation of the initiative, the MoF and Red Ciudadana reviewed the activity on the platform, the comments, the number of “views” of the presentations and videos per institution. Parallel to this, the Ministry of Finance is in the process of preparing its executive report reviewing all the mechanisms of the commitment.
As part of the implementation of Open Budget as a commitment in Guatemala’s Open Government Partnership National Action Plan (http://gobiernoabierto.gob.gt/acciones-para-avanzar-hacia-un-proceso-presupuestario-abierto-y-participativo/), the Ministry of Finance, through the Ministerial Memo No. 194-2017 ruled that the project submission process would be binding for each institution. For the same reason, it was established that the commitment had to be fulfilled within the deadline described.
Based on Article 8 of Decree Number 101-97: “BINDING PLAN – BUDGET. Public budgets are the annual expression of state plans, developed within the framework of the economic and social development strategy, in those aspects that require the public sector to capture and allocate the resources conducive to their normal functioning and for the Implementation of investment programs and projects, in order to achieve sectoral, regional and institutional goals and objectives. The Executive Agency, through the Ministry of Public Finance, will consolidate institutional budgets and prepare the budget and aggregate accounts of the public sector. It will also formulate the multi-year budget. Http://mcd.gob.gt/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/ley_organica_del_presupuesto.pdf
Who and How
The mechanism itself was a technological tool that allowed for the participation of people who for logistical, geographical, or disability reasons could not participate in person in the Open Budget workshops. The tool itself allowed for the first time, for citizens (as long as they had access to the Internet) to be witnesses in the real time, of the presentations of each institution of the management of public resources. Also, the tool included permission to comment through “FB comments”. This is the most used social network in Guatemala, which also allows to identify the user, respond to him, and follow him up. Another key point is that it was a “live” transmission, so it was implemented as a real time mechanism. Any internet user could visualize the presentations and the live broadcast, without the need to register.
Decision related to the budget itself were processed through a different formal channel, however, this tool constituted an additional input to know the public’s opinion.
This was the first year of implementation of the Third National Action Plan commitment, and currently the methodology of the mechanism for civil society’s feedback and how to improve the process inputs is being evaluated.
In the case of Guatemala, what facilitated the process was to focus an entire block of commitments on Fiscal Transparency in the Third Open Government Action Plan. This was the cornerstone of the process. Then, during the co-creation roundtables, it was important to fulfill this participation and collaboration between public institutions and civil society organizations. However, although commitment 16 was made here: “Actions to move towards an open and participatory budget process” in which specific goals for these forums and technical workshops are identified, through the cooperation of the civil society organization, Red Ciudadana, it was possible to increase the scope and allow many more citizens through the internet, who could participate in the process. Thus, Red Ciudadana focused on the part of developing the technological tool, and gave due follow-up during the forums held. Currenlty, Red Ciudadana is looking to improve the platform to enhance its effectiveness.
Progress in the implementation of the commitment could be tracked in this dedicated website: http://gobiernoabierto.gob.gt/acciones-para-avanzar-hacia-un-proceso-presupuestario-abierto-y-participativo/
Results and Impact
In general terms, the tool in its first year did not generate so many inputs materialized in comments from the population. Most were limited to knowing the forums, and spending of each institution. However, it is a process that must be improved in citizen participation. Organizers expect to improve the exercise through iteration, strengthening nformal mechanisms of accountability, as institutions are in the public eye and allow in the future to improve the control mechanisms knowing the initial proposals.
Through the use of technology, Red Ciudadana and the MoF sought to overcome the limited reach that the open budget exercises would have had, if it had only included those people who could physically attend (considering the limited space).
Currenlty, the Ministry of Finance is preparing an executive report, in which the Open and Participatory Budget exercises are evalutated. However, the Open Budget Workshops were replicated again for the preparation of the 2018 Budget.
- A key point is the early and efficient promotion (socialization) of the tool. Definitely, the tool had the potential for a greater reach.
- Statistics can be improved by taking into account important characteristics like gender, geographic localization.
- More information of how to use the tool and the importance of providing inputs and comments should be published
- It is important to combine live broadcast with a presentation by each institution uploaded on the platform with the detailed budget for future consultation.
- The dissemination of the mechanism fell short, although this has been a shortcoming of the majority of the Open Government commitments.
Principles of Public Participation in Fiscal Policy
Openness. Through the Ministerial Memo No. 194-2017, the Ministry of Finance mandated the relevant agencies to timely disclose the budget documents and related information; and also instructed the responsible agencies to conduct the Open Budget Workshops with an open government methodology.
Timeliness: The Open Budget workshops were implemented in a timely manner to match the budget cycle
Although, overcoming the exclusion of participation based on geographic distance or other entry barriers was the focus of the online participation platform, without significant dissemination of the workshops improving inclusion is yet a challenge. A campaign with a strategy to target specific publics was not implemented. On this matter, access to internet also becomes a barrier.
It is necessary to work in including mechanisms to strengthen respect for self-expression (like language moderators).
Other principles, like depth, need to be improved to the extent that the MoPF puts in place mechanisms to account for online discussions and provide feedback with respect to how inputs were used. This, in turn, would create incentives for the online participation, increasing the real impact in the forums as well.
Institutionalizing the platform would be key to guarantee the long-term sustainability, even without the collaboration of any civil society organization.
Guatemala is a presidential republic. In legal terms, Guatemala has a workable framework for civil society organizations, and for freedom of association and of expression.
As of the year 2015, when corruption scandals prompted unprecedented mass street protests in Guatemala in 2015, that led to the the resignation and arrest of Mr Pérez Molina and former vice-president Roxana Baldetti, civic growth was massive and evident. Civil society is increasingly making authorities accountable.
Open Budget Survey scores – the overall budget transparency score, and the scores for public participation. Indicate whether the intervention is measured by the OBS.
Open Budget Index (Transparency) 46/100
Public Participation 10/100
Budget oversight: by legislature 58/100 by Audit 83/100
Score on TI Corruption Perceptions Index
Rank: 136/176 Score 28/100