Interactive Accessibility to Budget Spending and Introduction of Civic Control Mechanisms (TBI0004)
Action Plan: Tbilisi, Georgia Action Plan
Action Plan Cycle: 2017
Lead Institution: Department of Finance
Support Institution(s): Municipal Services Development Agency NCLE, Tbilisi Legal Department
Policy AreasFiscal Openness, Legislation & Regulation, Local Commitments, Public Participation, Publication of Budget/Fiscal Information, Social Accountability
Issue to be Addressed: Budgetary report is presented to the public once a year included in the Tbilisi City Hall Annual Report, and it is presented to the Tbilisi City Council quarterly. Any individual may request and receive information within 10 days. The Department of Finance of Tbilisi City Hall and its subordinated entities are using individual Excel Files and do not have unified program, which would make the process more efficient and enable them to better analyze information for the Tbilisi City Hall’s internal and external use. Primary Objective: Interactive publication of simplified budget spending forms to ensure governments accountability on the daily bases as opposed to an annual format. Developing interactive mechanisms of accountability, civic participation and control to simplify access to information and to increase public involvement.
IRM End of Term Status Summary
4. Interactive accessibility to budget spending and introduction of civic control mechanism
The aim [of this commitment] is to enable the public to follow budgetary processes in a simple manner on a daily basis without specific prior knowledge and experience. Interactive publication of simplified budget spending forms to ensure governments accountability on the daily bases as opposed to an annual format. Developing interactive mechanisms of accountability, civic participation and control to simplify access to information and to increase public involvement.
[Create a] program [that] will be linked with a public electronic [mechanism], which will at least display current spending in specific budget priorities and budget codes and its related parameters. This format, with support of statistical and other tools, will enable users to filter specific elements of the information, obtain detailed information related to spending and print it out in full or partially [form] as an official document with its date and a unique code.
This [mechanism] will also include an automatic format for spending related citizen’s data entries [input] and directly informing the Tbilisi City Hall’s appropriate department with or without indicating individual’s identity. The information will be subject to periodical analysis after which it will be summarized and the general information related to response will be made publicly available.
Registration and activities of civic monitoring groups will be taken into consideration. Tbilisi residents (also organizations) will be able to monitor budget spending. For this purpose, they will need to get registered in civic monitoring group. They will receive special cards in order to be able to have a quick access to events, activities and certain types of information. Collected findings will be shared with Tbilisi City Hall. The information will be periodically analyzed, summarized and general information related to response, will be made publicly available.
Conditions and formats of these processes will be established.
1. Development and introduction of electronic system of financial management and analysis for the Department of Finance and development of terms of reference for the public e-portal interactive budget spending linked with the system (by June 2017)
2. Developing software and content for the portal. Creating a mechanism to allow information to be exported from budget spending interactive system into [the portal] (function of uploading on the e- portal) (by October 2017)
3. Piloting and introduction of the portal (by December 2017)
4. Making of a video clip covering portal and other OGP commitments and its dissemination through social media, mass media or through municipal entities (by December 2017)
5. Legal consultancy, development of system support legislative act(s), approval (by January 2017)
Editorial Note: The commitment text above is an excerpt from the Tbilisi 2017 action plan. The complete text provides detailed and technical information on how the milestones will be carried out, assigns responsibility to specific actors and provides concrete deadlines for its implementation.
Overall Objective & Relevance
In Tbilisi, access to information on budget spending has been an issue of wide discussion among CSOs and citizens in general. “No rational spending of budgets from Tbilisi budget to purchase decorations for New Year”, (Georgian Young Lawyer Association), https://gyla.ge/ge/post/tbilisshi-3-milioni-laris-ghirebulebis-2017-2018-tslis-saakhaltslo-dekoraciebis-shesyidva-racionalurad-ar-khdeba#sthash.H7gv47k6.c50SwFYT.dpbs As mentioned in the action plan, Tbilisi City Hall (the city executive body) publishes an annual budgetary report, while Tbilisi City Council (which approves the budget) does so every quarter. Any individual may request information from these bodies, which should be responded to within 10 days. However, information is provided in Excel spreadsheets without a unified or guiding format, limiting its access and use. Additionally, neither executive nor representative municipal bodies proactively publish information regarding administrative expenses. A recent study conducted by the Open Society Georgia Foundation, shows that among interviewed respondents, a clear majority (66 percent) claim that they are not at all informed about the Tbilisi budget and the programs to be carried out. A tiny minority (1.9 percent) consider themselves to be well-informed and 13.6 percent consider themselves as more or less informed. “Tbilisi Citizens’ Needs Assessment” Open Society Georgia Foundation, page 9, http://www.osgf.ge/files/2017/Publications/Presentation_File_English_(00000002).pdf
This commitment aims to open the budgetary process by providing interactive and online accessibility to up-to-date information on budget spending. The program would enable users to filter specific elements of the information and obtain detailed and printable reports. This e-tool would include a standardized template that automatically informs the appropriate municipal department of citizens’ data requests or comments. The tool is expected to be integrated into the Smart Map (a platform described in commitment 1 of this action plan).
During the elaboration of this commitment, government representatives considered that citizens who wanted to participate in monitoring activities would need to access sites to witness how the budget is being spent (for example, if the budgetary item is the construction of a building, the citizen would need special access granted to visit the construction site). Users would need to register in a civic monitoring group to access the program. They would receive special cards in order to be able to get quick access to events, activities and certain types of information. The concept of the monitoring groups and registration process is better explained in Commitment 5, which focuses on the creation of these groups. The information gathered from the program (citizen requests, input from groups and government responses) would be periodically analyzed and summarized to be made publicly available.
In addition, the commitment calls for the legal basis to be established to define procedures and conditions for operating the system.
The commitment is relevant to the OGP values of access to information, civic participation and technology and innovation for transparency. The platform provides user-friendly access to budget spending information while enabling citizens to provide input through monitoring groups regarding budget spending decisions. The government is required to respond periodically to citizen feedback, promoting public accountability. However, the commitment text does not specify what this response should contain and whether it would be enough to ensure justification of the government’s actions, act upon criticisms or requirements made of citizens, and accept responsibility for failure to perform with respect to laws or commitments.
Specificity and Potential Impact
The commitment is considered of medium specificity as it contains several verifiable milestones that represent subsequent steps for developing an electronic system for financial management, developing the software and content of a portal, piloting the system and, in addition, providing a legal basis to support the operation of the system. However, these activities require interpretation from the reader in order to measure its outcomes. For example, it is unclear exactly what data will be made public, what will be included in the simplified budget spending forms, how citizens will be able to inform decision-making processes or what the periodical analysis with summarized general information will include in response to citizen input and comments. Furthermore, it is intended for citizens to have to register in order to participate in the civic monitoring groups. The commitment does not explain the mechanism or criteria that would be used to screen and approve citizens.
The commitment could have an impact on current government practice, as it could change the current budgetary policy area. It could improve access to information and participation to allow Tbilisi residents to follow ongoing budget spending. Daily publication of information, as well as visualization on the web page, additional statistics and electronic tools, would simplify understanding and required analysis for the public. This will potentially enable more interested individuals to obtain and understand comprehensive information about the city’s budget spending without specific experience and knowledge. However, this commitment only includes details on the general functionality of the platform without a strong indication of what should be expected from the implementation of the commitment. For this reason, the IRM researcher considers this commitment, as written, to have a minor potential impact.
MSDA, with the active involvement of the department of finance, has developed an electronic system of financial management and created the terms of reference for the public e-portal interactive budget spending mechanism. The system was intended to be integrated under the electronic portal my.tbilisi.gov.ge. The software and content for the portal was developed and a mechanism was created to export information from the budget spending interactive system.
The pilot version of the portal was introduced to the members of the working group. Based on the pilot version of the module, it is intended to provide accessibility to budget expenditures approved by City Hall during the whole year. Once operational, citizens will have the opportunity to follow daily budget updates. The published information was meant to provide data on four main areas: budget duties, budget revenues, daily transfers and reserve funds. The sub-portal is meant to be integrated as a module under the website my.tbilisi.gov.ge with other portals created under the OGP action plan.
Supportive legal acts have been elaborated within the timeframe but have not been approved. During the meeting of the working group in October 2017 the updated drafts of the legal acts were presented. Minutes of the Meeting N9, 20 October 2017, http://ogp.tbilisi.gov.ge/img/original/2017/10/27/Record_Of_Meetig_N9.pdf However, that was the last meeting of the working group before the process was delayed. CSOs mentioned that they had no access to the final version of the legal acts. In general, USAID GGI believes that the Government of Tbilisi was on track but the process has been delayed since the municipal elections. Darchiashvili, Gorgodze, February 2018.
Stakeholders from civil society were not aware if their recommendations had been incorporated. Also, they are not aware of what the final act includes and whether it guarantees the accessibility of citizens to budget spending and if it can meaningfully serve as a civic control mechanism. Tsintsabadze, February 2018.
Early results: did it open government?
Access to Information: No change
Civic Participation: No change
Because the legal framework has not been completed and the portal has not been launched, there are no visible results in changes to government practice in improving access to information or civic participation. According to the CSOs, there is no evidence yet to measure early results as they have limited information about the implementation process of the commitment. Tsintsabadze, February 2018.
Some stakeholders state that this commitment might overlap with the results of one of the commitments under the Georgia national action plan Georgia National Action Plan 2016-2018, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/documents/georgia-national-action-plan-2016-2018 implemented by the Supreme Audit Office. Under this commitment, a web platform, Budget Monitor, was launched which informs citizens on state budget and audit findings in an easily understandable visual way and provides a mechanism for public feedback on potential violations by public institutions. Darchiashvili, Gorgodze, February 2018. According to the City Hall point of contact, the difference between Budget Monitor and the Tbilisi budget spending monitor is that under the Budget Monitor concept the information is not updated automatically. Under the portal, the information is requested from the municipalities and manually added. The government believes that the pilot version of the sub-portal is likely to be a useful tool for budget monitoring organizations. The main advantage of the system would be live updates on spending that would be publicly accessible for the first time. The sub-portal was created as a civic control mechanism to update information on budget spending automatically, which will minimize the subjectivity and provide a maximum level of access to information. Khasia, February 2018.
Given the importance of this commitment but its limited completion status at this stage, the IRM researcher recommends carrying it forward in the next action plan. Once the portal becomes operational, City Hall will need to make efforts to ensure uptake. Public awareness-raising campaigns would help to popularize the tool among Tbilisi residents and encourage its usage. The follow-up commitment should be more specific about the budget information that will be presented, and explain the civic monitoring process in more detail, e.g. how would the results of the monitoring be presented on the portal, and what would be the required responses/follow-up based on the monitoring?
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