Our Perspective


If Budgets Could Speak Sustainable Development

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Nepal Budget InnovationNepal - faced with multiple challenges of poverty, climate change and post-earthquake recovery - offers insights into how a simple budget prioritization system can track spending on national priorities. UNDP Photo

Tracking Public Spending Through the Lens of the Agenda 2030

Two years ago, 193 countries committed themselves to the Sustainable Development Goals; a universal set of development ambitions that will shape their policies and political agendas for the coming decades. The 16 goals speak to the major challenges governments in Asia and the Pacific are confronted with, including climate change, poverty, gender inequalities and ineffective governance.    

For countries to tackle these challenges in a meaningful way, and that too by the year 2030, governments and citizens need to know how much of their national budgetary spending corresponds to the Goals. Much of my work focuses on public finance, and enabling governments to make informed decisions on development spending.  

In an earlier blog I discussed the idea of introducing a budget classification system that would align budget programmes with the SDGs. A serious constraint was the complex set of changes that required time, technical deliberations and resources to bring to fruition. (You can read more here). 

Meanwhile, as I see the problem, there is a ‘low-hanging fruit’ that can be plucked at a lower cost, whilst  offering some of the same benefits. 

Nepal is a good example. The country has been using a simple and effective budget prioritization system for a long time now. At its core, the system requires government departments to present their new budget requests using a scoring method that is based on national priorities. Each new initiative gets scored based on how relevant it is to Nepal-tailored priorities.

Countries could adopt a similar system adjusted to SDGs fairly easily. 

If finance ministries are able to track how strongly a particular budgetary proposal aligns with the nationally-adopted SDG targets, prioritising spending becomes easier. Countries can assign bigger weights to those SDGs that are more relevant to country’s national priorities. 

The more points a proposal gets, the bigger the chances to be short-listed for allocation. The government, on its turn, will be able to track and communicate to the public on how aligned the new budget allocations are to the national priorities, i.e. SDGs. 

Such a system would require budget proposals to have a simple one-page annex to inform planning and finance ministries on the project’s SDG relevance score. The overall score for each new budget initiative will then be compared with other initiatives.

The benefits that governments stand to gain from this system far outstrip the costs of introducing it. The proposed solution is not intended to replace the existing budget formulation practices. Rather, it adds another layer of information to proposed development spending, allowing greater insight. This will also allow governments to be more accountable to their own citizens in offering an overview of the development outcomes that public funds are being allocated towards. 

Comments are welcome. Tell us your thoughts on how we could build on this idea.  

Blog post Development Finance Sustainable development Agenda 2030 Asia & the Pacific