What does it take to succeed where others have failed?
The grant proposal submitted by the Philippines country team to the Governance Partnership Facility (GPF) takes stock of past failures quite candidly: “The Philippines’ history is littered with failed attempts to improve governance and public sector performance. (…) Promising initiatives have been launched including Procurement Watch, Pork Barrel Watch, Alternative Budget, etc.” Few of them however have generated effective scrutiny and policy influence.
Enter “Budget Watch” – “a common platform among CSOs and academics to scrutinize government budget on a regular basis.” The Philippines team is hoping that the Bank’s credibility on public expenditure issues and convening power can turn Budget Watch into something more meaningful and sustainable than previous fragmented efforts.
Idealism or realism? Like a lot of development work, it takes both – plus a good measure of patience -- to catalyze change in the local political culture. "Maybe we don't have realistic expectations," says Yasuhiko Matsuda, who works on public financial management and governance-related research in the Philippines. The same small group people is often behind the different watchdogs that sporadically come to life. "It's hard to judge how solid or broad thoses networks really are," says Matsuda.
Having access to a sizeable and reliable budget may be a major factor behind the success or eventual demise of civil society initiatives. In the Philippines, Textbook Count (an effort to improve textbook procurement and delivery involving Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and Coca-Cola trucks) achieved fame and impressive results. But Textbook Count stopped after four rounds (2002-2006) and international donor resources shifted to other projects. Matsuda is hoping Budget Watch will be supported by Ausaid once it gets off the ground later this year. That would ensure the medium-term sustainability of the latest addition to the civil society landscape after GPF money runs out.
“I don’t have a magical formula to make it a success. We may succumb to the same forces that undermined other initiatives,” says Matsuda. He suspects a CSO’s success may have something to do with the quality and regularity of its output – two things money can buy, to a certain extent.
But the stars also need to be properly aligned at the political level. “You need a willingness inside the government to do things differently – a reformist minister, for example, who reaches out to allies in civil society to push a reform agenda,” says Matsuda. That configuration, unfortunately, can appear and disappear in the blink of an eye when cabinets are reshuffled or at election time.
--published April 19, 2010
For more information about the Governance Partnership Facility, please contact the GPF Secretariat at firstname.lastname@example.org.