The first people’s budget

The Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) – the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip – while under the control of Israel, is self-governed by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Oxfam has been working with its Ministries of Health, Education, Higher Education and Local Governance to develop a citizen’s budget that allows ordinary people to understand and track how public funds are spent.

Oxfam’s ambition, and that of its partners, was to increase the responsiveness of Palestinian national and local budgets to citizens who were most vulnerable in society. We wanted to strengthen the capacity of civil servants, local organizations and citizens to influence decisions that would ensure that government funds and foreign aid is targeted and spent appropriately on reaching people in most need.

A citizen’s budget is a simplified version of the PNA’s public budget that summarizes government financial policies in terms of expenditure and allocations for the year ahead. The published document provides citizens of OPT with easy-to-understand information about how each ministry is financing and spending its budget, as well as foreign aid, and the exact amount allocated for the programs and priorities of each.

To achieve this, we worked with MIFTAH (Palestinian Initiative for Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy), an organization that promotes the principles of democracy and good governance in Palestinian society. Miftah and the Ministry of Social Development (MoSD) provided 24 training sessions for 34 civil servants – including the deputy Minister, heads of departments and programs, and finance staff – on budget transparency and participatory budgeting; developed a four-page citizen’s budget (published in March 2017); and created the means by which citizens would be consulted about the formulation of next year’s fiscal budget. We also persuaded the Ministry of Finance and the Cabinet to increase budget allocation to reach the most vulnerable people in the OPT.

Drawing on the positive experience with the MoSD, the project team approached the Ministry of Education and, by the end of 2016, a similar way of working had been agreed, with a citizen’s education budget planned for the following year. The experience working with both Ministries reflects increased political will by the PNA to endorse inclusive and participatory budgeting, with a particular achievement including the provision of data indicating the extent to which women are able to access services provided by the MoSD – a great starting point for providing more equal and transparent access to resources.

The first result of a series of recommendations submitted to the President’s Office, Cabinet, Ministry of Finance and the Legislative Council, has been to support the creation of an online portal that all social assistance programs and donor agencies can access, and the agreement to write off the deficit in the MoSD’s budget for 2017, so that essential programs for the most vulnerable people can be sustained. Successful cooperation between Miftah and MoSD teams showed that increased financial transparency in the OPT is not just possible, but an important pathway to ensure that Palestinian national and local budgets are more responsive to the needs of poor and marginalized people.