Economies in the world’s largest continent will recover faster if countries can capitalize on budget transparency and increased citizen engagement in political decision making.

It is a famous line often used to track corruption: Follow the money.

The line is even more resonant in this COVID-19 world, as economies face challenges, government institutions and systems are tested to the limit, and global solidarity is urged, to battle the disease.

With Ministries of Finance around the world releasing billions of dollars in stimulus packages, to fight COVID-19, fiscal transparency is more crucial than ever. The pandemic is exposing failures in governance systems and illustrating a lack of transparency and accountability in decision-making over the best strategy to fight the virus, leading to a lack of confidence and credibility in governments.

A transparent, participatory decision-making process can increase trust among citizens while ensuring that vulnerable groups, most affected by the pandemic -- such as the poor, women, and marginalized groups -- receive adequate financial support. This is especially pertinent to the Asia-Pacific region, home to two-thirds of the world’s poor and vulnerable.

Stimulus packages provide an unprecedented opportunity to unlock massive economic and social benefits. According to the UN Framework for the socio-economic response to COVID 19, strong policy measures could trigger 26 trillion in economic benefits by 2030, create over 65 million jobs, and avoid 700,000 premature deaths from air pollution.

Therefore, public funds directed to saving big business should be conditional upon substantive environmental upgrades and investments, in green technology and innovation.

New pathways that take a whole-of government approach to climate change, can also be applied for a robust response to COVID-19. Transparency, and active participation in the decision-making process by governments, civil society, the private sector, think-tanks, universities, and citizens can ensure that resources are efficiently utilized, and include a green and inclusive recovery.

So, there are some important lessons from fighting climate change that can be beneficial in battling the pandemic.

Increased budget transparency: Governments should ensure access to information, including key budget documents and fiscal stimulus packages, information that is detailed, clear and posted online. This will allow citizens to monitor government funding and spending.  According to the 2019 Open Budget Survey, many countries neither release key budget documents nor disclose important information. In the survey, Asia and the Pacific ranked in the middle for transparency, compared to other regions.

Climate Budget Tagging empowers governments to monitor and track climate-related expenditures. This comprehensive data enables them to make informed decisions and prioritize investments. It has successfully been implemented in several countries including, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Nepal.   

A similar tool can be developed to track COVID-19 fiscal stimulus packages, which enables policy makers to assess if funds are used effectively. CBT can also help assess which portion of the fiscal stimulus package will be used towards greening investments, supporting transformation to green economies.

Active citizens participation: Public participation in budget formulation, monitoring, and control is paramount to successfully fighting COVID-19 and climate change. An excellent example of such public participation and dialogue, is the Citizen’s Climate Budget. By strengthening the participation of civil society organizations, citizens, and media, it holds government accountable for managing public funds. UNDP has supported development of Citizen’s Climate Budget in Nepal and Cambodia providing people with easy access to and understanding of information. This has helped built the capacity of civil society, which has been involved in developing the Citizen Budget. A similar tool could be used to monitor allocations and expenditures of fiscal stimulus packages, for COVID-19.

Strengthening oversight institutions: The fast spread of the virus has forced parliaments around the world to enact emergency measures and pass fiscal stimulus packages to support economy. There is little or no time to ensure funds will be distributed to those most in need.  The role of Parliament and the Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) is essential in holding governments accountable for how they use of public funds. The role of SAI is crucial in ensuring that funds are used efficiently and for intended purposes.

UNDP under the Governance of Climate Change Finance programme developed Climate Budget Review Handbooks in partnership with the Parliaments of Pakistan and Nepal that provide useful guidance on how to better scrutinize budgets through a climate change lens. Similar guidance can be developed for COVID-19 stimulus packages to assess how funds are allocated for green investments and vulnerable groups.

A tectonic shift unlocks new opportunities

Fighting COVID-19 and climate change requires solidarity, coordination, and a sustained effort from various actors. UNDP has developed a paper on the social and economic impact of COVID-19 for the Asia-Pacific region, outlining how countries can capitalize on the opportunity, to build a better future.

Our regional Climate Finance Network (CFN) programme, which includes 16 countries in the region, will focus on further advancing climate finance reforms, by promoting budget transparency, public participation and strengthening of oversight institutions. Among other things, the programme will highlight climate finance innovations and knowledge sharing. This will both accelerate reforms, reduce their costs and develop regional partnerships to promote accountability and transparency of climate finance reforms.

As COVID-19 and climate change continue to define everyday life, it is important to remember that transparency, and accountability are vital to ensure victory over the pandemic, and to alleviate the harmful effects of climate change.

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