- Budgets are the most critical public policy documents affecting people’s lives; citizen-responsive budgeting can transform and improve the way governments deliver services, especially to the poor.
- But budget data and processes can be impenetrably complex for the majority of the public.
- WBI and the World Bank’s Sudan Country Office launched a multi-year, partnership-driven program to strengthen the capacity of Sudanese media to undertake demand-driven and responsive media coverage of budget formulation, implementation, fiscal monitoring, oversight, and performance management.
April 8, 2013— ‘Where are the new toilet facilities for my child’s school?’ ‘Am I entitled to a farming subsidy?’ ‘Will my village’s roads be paved, so I can move my goods to the market faster?’ ‘Is government spending money efficiently?' Put simply, when the World Bank Institute (WBI) asked Sudanese citizens what public service issues really matter to them, the responses flooded in.
At the center of these conversations is the reality that budgets are the most critical public policy documents affecting people’s lives; citizen-responsive budgeting can transform and improve the way governments deliver services, especially to the poor. But budget data and processes can be impenetrably complex for the majority of the public.
So how do you enable millions of people across Sudan to digest, discuss and debate budget issues?
WBI has a suggestion: work with media. Media are mass mobilizers of information. Large and small media organizations – from community radio to national broadcasters, from print to the professional blogosphere – are platforms where ideas can be discussed and refined, where public opinion can be tested and marshaled, and, crucially, where data-driven investigation, analysis, and triangulation can strengthen understanding and decision-making at all levels.
Strengthening Media as an Institution of Accountability
But the journalists of Sudan, like so many across regions, are not economists or statisticians. Plus, many of these budget issues are driven by uncertainty resulting from Sudan’s relatively recent emergence from long-standing conflict. In fact, there was little in-depth analysis by media of the economic implications of the 2011 secession of South Sudan and the loss of substantial oil revenue.
Diagnosing this nexus between the lack of key public engagement and the media skills gap in Sudan, WBI and the World Bank’s Sudan Country Office launched a multi-year, partnership-driven program to strengthen the capacity of Sudanese media to undertake demand-driven and responsive media coverage of budget formulation, implementation, fiscal monitoring, oversight, and performance management. This included engaging journalists from across 22 of the country’s media outlets, their editors and owners of media houses – to discuss the ‘business case’ for stronger economic reporting – and even journalism students at the University of Khartoum, toward diffusing ‘budget literacy’ at the pre-professional level.
WBI brought together development partners, budget data journalists, economic journalism trainers, and PFM experts from the University of Khartoum, Al-Jazeera, the African Media Initiative, and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to provide journalists guided, hands on learning across a full budget cycle.
“The Media Development program enabled me to understand the annual priorities set in each budget, and how it is implemented in support of actions that improve the quality of life,” Abas Ahmed, a participant said. ”Through this course, I learnt an important fact that the budget is not merely an event, but it is one of the most compelling, year-round stories available to any reporter.”
Ahmed points to the program as his inspiration for overcoming formidable odds to create and launch Sudan's only operating economic newspaper (called ‘Al Aswaq’, which is Arabic for ‘The Markets’), of which he is now Managing Editor. He has committed to systematically ‘follow the money’ to inform the public and give voice to civil society on public spending.
Results, impact, and sustainability
WBI’s approach builds on the premise that media occupy a strategic space systematically connecting government and citizens.
“While truly astounding strides have been made on the ‘what’, ‘why’, and ‘how’ of PFM support by a spectrum of organizations, all too often the ‘who’ is an afterthought” said Craig Hammer, who leads WBI’s Media Development program, “and so,WBI inaugurated a user-centric development program focused on the demand-side of PFM, with an emphasis on the role of media as both a driver of the knowledge economy, and a catalyzer, proliferator, and enabler of mass ‘PFM literacy’ toward responsive and collaborative governance.”
Throughout the program, the participants were able to sustain coverage of topical finance, economic integration, and development issues at national and regional levels. This resulted in public engagement with government, including calls to the government to invest more in precious metal extractives to replace lost oil revenue, calls to scale up the country’s sugar industry as a potential stabilizer of the economy, pressure from farmers for agricultural subsidies to give domestic growers a competitive advantage, and calls on the Finance Ministry to address poverty through more social services for poor.
The Media Development program enabled me to understand the annual priorities set in each budget, and how it is implemented in support of actions that improve the quality of life.Abas Ahmed, a participant
The cohort took the engagement a step further and self-organized into the country’s first Sudan Economics Reporters Association -- a network of Sudanese journalists, economic CSOs, and international partners supporting exchanges and knowledge sharing on economic and financial journalism.
Hal Hamza, a journalist and one of the 15 women who participated in the Media program, says the skills she built during the program is why she was promoted to Head of the Economic Section at Al Sudani newspaper, a major daily in the country. For Ms Hamza the program was also an opportunity to collaborate with other journalists on economic and finance stories.
WBI, in close collaboration with the World Bank Sudan Country Office and a range of partners, are continuing the Media Development program in Sudan, including support for the Sudan Economics Reporters Association as its membership expands, and have recently inaugurated a sister program in South Sudan, also focused on 'Following the Money.'