Expand Open Budget Initiative (LR0009)
Action Plan: Liberia, Second National Action Plan, 2015-2017
Action Plan Cycle: 2015
Lead Institution: MICAT, MOF, MIA
Support Institution(s): LFIC, CEMESP, CENTAL, CUPPADL, LMC, All GSM companies
Policy AreasAccess to Information, Capacity Building, E-Government, Fiscal Openness, Open Data, Public Participation, Publication of Budget/Fiscal Information
Performance Indicators: Number of SMS sent out and received by the platform with feedbacks. Number of OBI activities (workshops and stakeholder meetings) in all 15 counties. Number of citizens reached disaggregated by geographical locations. Percentage/number of citizens receiving copies the citizens’ guide to the budget. Number of citizens reached through town hall meetings and radio talk shows. Number of quarterly budget execution reports and GAC reports published in the open data portal
IRM Midterm Status Summary
For Commitment details, see Liberia Progress Report 2015-2017.
IRM End of Term Status Summary
Ministry of Finance (MOF), Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT), Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) with support of Liberia Freedom of Information Coalition (LFIC), Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP), Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), Citizens United to Promote Peace & Democracy (CUPPADL), Liberia Media Center (LMC), all mobile telecom companies (GSM), (1 July 2015 - 30 June 2016).
· 1.3.1 Develop SMS platform to disseminate budget information through bulk SMS with instant SMS response
· 1.3.2 Decentralize the Open Budget Initiative (OBI) to 15 counties.
· 1.3.3 Create awareness through town criers and local radio stations and other media outlets to explain the open budget initiative
· 1.3.4 Print and distribute 10,000 copies of the citizen’s guide to the budget in the 15 counties.
· 1.3.5 Conduct 15 town hall meetings and hold 20 talk shows to discuss the budget soliciting citizens’ feedback on the budget in the 15 counties
· 1.3.6 Publish in open data portal quarterly budget and all audit reports released by the General Auditing Commission.
This commitment includes specific goals and activities to publicize the open budget initiative in Liberia. It has the potential to transform the process and system of distributing and sharing budget information with the public, and soliciting feedback on the management of public resources. Prior to the commitment period, Liberia performed poorly in the Open Budget Survey 2015 (scoring 38 out of a possible 100 points). Only four out of eight key budget documents were publicly disclosed and checks and balances on spending were missing from the institutional budget-approval framework. The activities planned under this commitment were to set up an SMS platform to disseminate budget information so that citizens can have access to the national budget and participate on the discussion about public spending. The commitment also aims to decentralize the Open Budget Initiative (OBI) activities to the 15 counties in Liberia.
Increased outreach has been carried out by engaging citizens through radio talk shows and town halls, and the guidebooks have provided access to understandable budget information.
Awareness-raising activities under the “National Open Budget” theme were carried out in 11 counties and 6,500 citizens’ guide booklets were produced and distributed in libraries in high schools, universities and community colleges in all 15 counties. The booklets are also available online on the Ministry of Finance website. However, the SMS platform to disseminate budget information was not instituted and the Open Data Portal, which is to publish quarterly budget online, was not yet operational. For more information, please see the 2015–2016 IRM midterm report.
According to the government self-assessment report, at the end of the implementation period 10,000 copies of the Citizens’ Guide booklets[Note18: Citizen’s Guide to the Liberian Budget, http://www.fourthway.co.uk/citizens-guide/index.html were produced (in addition to the 6,500 copies already distributed). This distribution exercise covered 78 libraries of high schools, six universities and six community colleges across the 15 counties. However, there are no indicators of the number of citizens reached disaggregated by geographical locations.
More than 3,000 citizens have directly participated in a public forum and 11 focus group discussions nationwide. Outreach activities have been conducted in 11 counties under the theme “National Open Budget”. According to a representative from the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), it has conducted different awareness-raising activities to decentralize the OBI. These included interactive forums related to projects and funds for elected representatives and their constituencies. With support from UNDP they produced “The Open Expenditure Initiative (OEI) Report” which details findings gathered from four districts through Focus Group Discussions and Open Expenditure Forums on the County Social Development Funds in Montserrado.[Note19: Interview with CENTAL representatives, November 2017.] A representative of CENTAL also pointed out that the Open Expenditure idea was their way of pushing for more openness and a call for public officials to prioritize the dissemination of expenditure information when they give out budget information.
Nonetheless, two milestones under this commitment—the SMS platform to disseminate budget information and the Open Data Portal to publish quarterly budgets and all audit reports online— have not been implemented.
Did It Open Government?
Access to Information: Marginal
The distribution of citizens’ guide booklets, outreach activities under the theme “National Open Budget” and the interactive forum where public officials disseminate expenditure information in the counties have been highlighted by LOFANET and CENTAL representatives. Some of them stated that this is the first-time initiatives like this have been conducted in their community.[Note20: Interview with LOFANET and CENTAL representatives, November 2017.]
According to the Open Budget Initiative Survey results for 2017, citizens’ key budget information documents published by the government are substantially comprehensive and useful in providing basic information to citizens. Since 2015, Liberia has increased the availability of budget information by publishing the Citizens’ Budget online. However, budget information disclosure is still limited in Liberia, as no quarterly budgets, audit reports or pre-budget statements that allow proper monitoring or feedback have been disclosed. Therefore, the IRM researcher concludes that this commitment has increased citizens’ access to budget information only in a marginal way.
This commitment was carried forward into the next action plan (Commitment 3). The commitment includes the publication of annual and quarterly audit reports; and extends the coverage of the International Financial Management and Information System to eight additional ministries and agencies.