The Kayah State Government, with the support of The Asia Foundation, led a two-day civic consultation attended by 71 civil society representatives, media, government representatives from the Ministry of Planning and Finance, and all line Departments under the Kayah State Government, according to a press release.
The workshop was initiated and designed by the Kayah State Budget Director as a part of the government’s efforts to sustain recent efforts to promote fiscal transparency and civic engagement, which have included regular citizen budget publications and budget literacy trainings. During the first day of the workshop, the Budget Director, U Ye Naing Aung, shared information on the budget allocations and trends in Kayah State over the past 5 years, thus providing participants with an insight into government priorities. On the following day, the Asia Foundation and Budget Director facilitated a discussion with civil society and line departments on the budget data shared and noted civil society input for budget allocations for FY2019-2020.
The consultation held in Kayah is the first attempt by any subnational government to formally consult civil society on their priorities prior to developing the first draft of a budget. It comes at an opportune time, coinciding with the first budget cycle of the changed fiscal year. (In 2018 the Government of Myanmar changed its fiscal year to a September - October cycle, where previously the cycle was from April to March.) According to the new fiscal year cycle, proposals for a new subnational budget should be gathered at the township level between January and February, meaning that the timing of this Kayah consultation will allow for citizen’s voices to be included in proposals for the first time. This is important as the proposals will then feed into a draft budget, which will be developed by the State Budget Department in May.
The consultation was opened by the Kayah State Chief Minister U L Phaung Sho who announced that since the Government of Kayah State has been trying to make the budget to be more transparent and accountable, they seek wider recommendations and feedback from multiple stakeholders including the public, civil society organizations and parliament.
" As we all are working toward democracy, it would be very good if we engage more and encourage people to participate in the planning and budgeting process in constructive ways," he said.
Kayah State Budget Director U Ye Naing Aung presented on day one, emphasising the objective of the event as to consult and collect information and recommendations for the upcoming fiscal year by creating the space for civil society organizations, line departments and other relevant stakeholders as a preparation step.
"As we are chasing the objective of participatory budgeting in Kayah State, civil society organizations and other stakeholders play an important role in our process for getting constructive ideas and inputs," he said.
Dr Matthew Arnold, country representative of The Asia Foundation in Myanmar said "This event is the great opportunity for building confidence and trust between the government and public. As Myanmar continues to democratize, this type of event really helps to show local people that the government is trying to be more transparent and accountable about how their public finances are being used."
Throughout the two days of coordination and consultation, civil society organizations and the public demonstrated that the event can deliver clear messages to government However, CSOs still need more information to be able to debate and make evidence-based suggestions for government, such as how to identify and prioritize the duties and responsibilities of state-led implementation committees and task forces.
A representative from the Alin Thit Social Development Group showed appreciation for the consultation initiative, highlighting how good it was to see CSOs getting involved in pre-budget consultations led by the Kayah government. He added that it would be welcome for the government to make this a sustained long-term practice underpinning their future civic engagement.
The Asia Foundation’s work on strengthening subnational governance in Myanmar is supported by the UK Government Aid, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.