It’s Global Tax Season: What Role for Citizens?

Written by Andrew Wainer, Director of Policy Research at Save the Children

Even as domestic tax reform is in the political limelight, there is growing attention to taxation in the developing world and the role of citizens in shaping tax policy.

This month Save the Children launched an initiative supporting citizen action in Kenya on domestic resource mobilization (DRM) – as taxation is referred to in the development community. The project is directed at the Kenyan national and county-level tax systems.

Working with local citizens, Save the Children is advocating for fair and transparent tax collection with the ultimate aim of supporting the Kenyan government’s ability to finance basic services for its most vulnerable communities.

DRM assistance typically comes in the form of technical support and capacity building provided by bilateral and multilateral donors directly to developing country revenue authorities or ministries of finance. This assistance, which often involves upgrading information technology and increasing tax officials’ professional competency, is critical.

But citizen engagement in DRM is also crucial to ensuring that tax policy is fair and reflects the popular will, not just the aims of special interests. Integrating the voices of regular citizens into DRM discussions strengthens citizens’ relationship with their government. Paying and spending tax resources is at the heart of the relationship between citizens and the state.

And engaging local citizens in DRM isn’t just good for transparency, it can also result in more effective DRM assistance, because taxation is inherently political.

As the World Bank states, “Even after the formal tax structure and tax administration are reformed, levels of tax collection can remain unchanged unless there is sustained political will….The political dimension is therefore of paramount importance in any kind of tax and revenue reform.”

While DRM is the most sustainable way to finance the Sustainable Development Goals, it must address both the administrative and the policy shortcomings that undermine the fairness of national and local tax systems. To address equity and fairness, DRM assistance should be inclusive of a range of citizen voices – not just technocratic experts – so that the concerns of vulnerable and marginalized groups are integrated into tax policy.

Supporting Citizen Engagement in DRM

In order to support citizen voices in developing world tax reform, we need better data on the quantity and quality of donor DRM assistance.

To this end, the OECD, through its Creditor Reporting System (CRS) foreign assistance database, created a sub-code for DRM assistance to measure its disbursement by bilateral and multilateral donors. This is a big step forward for measuring DRM assistance, and while the data includes significant limitations, it is now possible to ascertain the contours of donor DRM assistance to the developing world, including assistance that supports greater engagement of local citizens in tax conversations.

But in spite of the new data, the extent to which donors support DRM through empowering local citizen voices has not been extensively analyzed. Using the new DRM sub-code, we can begin to measure donors’ support for local citizens as a percentage of their overall DRM support.

The CRS includes a “channel” variable describing how foreign assistance is disseminated. Using the channel variable, it is possible to disaggregate donor DRM funding by using the “NGO and civil society” channel as a – useful, but imprecise – proxy for DRM assistance to local citizens. For the sake of context, the channel variable includes the following eight options for how donors channel foreign assistance to developing nations:

  • Public sector
  • NGO and civil society
  • Public private partnership
  • Multilateral organizations
  • Teaching institutions
  • Private sector institutions
  • Other
  • Not reported

Lack of Donor Emphasis on DRM Citizen Engagement

Overall, direct support to citizens within the DRM sub-code is quite low compared to other development sectors. In 2015, of the total $191 million in DRM assistance provided by all donors and reported through the CRS, only 3% ($6 million) was channeled to local civil society or NGOs. 

Contrast this with the level of direct support to citizens for all sectors: In 2015, 12% ($21 billion of the total $174 billion) of all foreign assistance was disbursed to local civil society or NGOs – four times greater than the percentage for DRM assistance alone.

US DRM Assistance

The United States was the second largest bilateral DRM donor overall in 2015 with $37 million in disbursements, but like the sector overall, the data indicates that the US could improve in terms of balancing its DRM portfolio with increased citizen engagement activities.

In 2015 the OECD did not record the United States providing any DRM assistance directly to local citizens or NGOs. This statistic is incomplete due to imprecise OECD capture of US DRM projects.  A more detailed investigation of the US DRM portfolio indicates that it has multiple project components dedicated to citizen engagement that do not appear in the OECD data. These projects include:

  • Work with local civil society in Uganda to educate citizens about the importance of local taxation,
  • Support for civic oversight and participation in municipal budgeting in Haiti, and
  • Funding of local civil society organizations to ensure transparency in the use of revenues from extractive operations the in the Philippines

Still, it’s clear that there is room for improvement. USAID Administrator Mark Green has emphasized the importance of US assistance for DRM to help nations finance their own development needs. But to ensure that DRM is inclusive and accountable – and sustainable – the US government and other bilateral and multilateral donors should do more to ensure that DRM assistance supports local citizens’ ability to join tax discussions and advocate for fair and equitable revenue collection.

 

Sorghum bags being dispatched from Jijiga to drought-affected areas in the Somali region of Ethiopia. Photo by: U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa / CC BY-ND

Foreign aid works for us all

Sorghum bags being dispatched from Jijiga to drought-affected areas in the Somali region of Ethiopia. Photo by: U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa / CC BY-ND

Originally published on Devex.com

Leaked documents reported this week suggest the Trump Administration would like to cut foreign aid by more than 30 percent and possibly merge the U.S. Agency for International Development with the State Department. This proposal comes despite the fact that we are facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II—there are more people fleeing war and persecution than ever in history—and famine conditions are threatening parts of the Middle East and Africa.

I’ve recently heard some critics say that foreign aid does not work. This could not be farther from the truth. Dollar-for-dollar, it is one of the most effective uses of our taxes. One penny of every dollar in the total U.S. budget goes to helping families in other countries—a small investment that saves lives and helps millions of people every year. Strong U.S. leadership during the last 25 years has helped cut extreme poverty in half and led to half as many children dying around the world from preventable illnesses like malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia. We need to build on this progress rather than allow it to lapse.

America currently spends nearly 50 percent less on foreign assistance, as a percentage of gross domestic product, than during the Reagan administration. Further reducing this budget would hinder the U.S. government’s ability to help respond to disasters – natural and man-made – including those that know no borders, like the recent Ebola and Zika outbreaks. Being prepared to respond quickly to the next disease is just as critical for U.S. citizens as it is for those at the epicenter of the outbreak.

Countless times, I’ve seen firsthand how U.S. foreign assistance works and saves lives. I recently visited Jordan, a country that is committed to welcoming families fleeing violence and persecution in neighboring countries. More than 650,000 Syrian refugees, half of them under the age of 18, are now in Jordan, and the U.S. provides significant foreign aid for refugee programs in the country. That support feeds young refugee children, offers children the chance to get back into school after years of being away from home and provides vocational training for Syrian youth to give them hope for a productive future. This U.S. funding is essential if we are to avoid a lost generation of young people who can eventually help put their country on a better path.

In addition, today nearly 20 million people in Somalia, Nigeria, Yemen, and South Sudan face the threat of starvation, and famine has already been declared in South Sudan. Save the Children is on the ground working with partners, including USAID, to provide lifesaving water, food and treatment to these children and families whose lives depend on our help. U.S. foreign aid is critical for preventing and addressing famine, yet proposed budget cuts would eliminate funding for the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) that helps us prevent and respond faster and more efficiently to famine conditions around the globe.

Preparing for drought before its worst effects take hold is on average three times more cost-effective than emergency response, as illustrated by studies in Ethiopia and Kenya. Pair this with the World Bank study that calculated disaster risk reduction saves $4-7 for every $1 invested, and it’s clear that our foreign aid investments are not only the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective but also from a fiscal perspective. To put it simply: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Promoting health, education, gender equality and economic opportunities for communities around the world leads to more stable societies, which are critical to our national interests. A group of more than 120 retired generals and admirals agree and sent a letter to Congress in February stating, “The military will lead the fight against terrorism on the battlefield, but it needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism – lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice, and hopelessness.”

The international affairs budget is a triple win: it helps U.S. economic and national interests, it helps people prosper, and it saves lives. These proposed budget cuts and the folding of USAID into the State Department would deeply hurt America and our neighbors. We all need to do our part by telling our members of Congress that this funding is critical to our wellbeing.

Guatemala Blog Post 2

Bipartisan McGovern-Dole Program Transforms Health and Education in Guatemala’s Western Highlands

By Dan Stoner, Associate Vice President of Education and Child Protection at Save the Children.

In August 2016, I had the privilege of visiting Save the Children’s IDEA project in Guatemala with Jonathan Cordone, the then Deputy Undersecretary of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

IDEA is a USDA project funded through the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program. IDEA is one example of the many international humanitarian and development programs that would be a casualty of the President’s drastic proposal to cut U.S. international affairs funding by roughly one-third.

The justification for the cut was that the program lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity, but our Guatemala program shows that it is indeed making a difference in the lives of children.

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Guatemala’s Western Highlands

In the Guatemalan Western Highlands, more than 60% of indigenous children are stunted and more than half are malnourished.  Through the IDEA project, Save the Children feeds more than 43,000 school age children per year, directly addressing food insecurity in the most impoverished region of Guatemala.

A recent independent evaluation of the IDEA program indicated that as a result of the school meals, absenteeism in program schools dropped from 20% to 5% in less than 2 years.[1]  The same evaluation found the number of children who now pay attention in class increased by 40%.  When asked why more children were paying attention in class, teachers said “They are no longer hungry.”

The McGovern-Dole Program

The McGovern-Dole program goes beyond just feeding children who otherwise would not have, in many cases, even one nutritious meal a day.  It integrates health, nutrition, and education interventions that enable children to reach their full potential.   The IDEA program has transformed barren cinderblock classrooms into engaging environments (as seen below) designed to cultivate children’s curiosity and encourage their love of learning. As a result of the USDA McGovern-Dole program, these children have learned to read in two languages: the indigenous K’iche’ language and Spanish.

While the program is based in more than 260 rural schools in Quiche province, its impact extends beyond these communities.

Ministry of Education officials who have seen the program work, have adopted program methodologies and manuals from the IDEA program to be used in all of Guatemala’s public schools. The government officials were so supportive of the program that they asked Save the Children to implement it in schools that were more remote than originally planned and paid for the additional costs of doing so. This support and buy-in from the local government is a testament to the impact of USDA McGovern-Dole programming on the most vulnerable populations in Guatemala.

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In this story I am talking about one school, but one that is as vibrant as any I have seen in my 25 years in international development. The IDEA program reaches 260 schools.   McGovern Dole has 46 active programs around the world.  USDA and USAID reach millions of children in schools just like these every year.

The impact in the Western Highlands is an example of how the McGovern-Dole program reduces hunger and improves literacy and primary education globally. Each year, the McGovern-Dole program feeds over 3 million children and their families around the world while providing comprehensive education interventions designed to ensure the future success of today’s school-age children.

This is just one example of a proven bipartisan program that gives children around the world a brighter future.  At less than 1% of the entire federal budget, slashing international affairs won’t make an impact on the deficit, but the impact on children will be devastating. Congress must continue to invest in programs like these – they’re worth every penny.

 

[1] Asociacion De Desarrollo Organizacional Communitara ADOC. Mid Term Evaluation of IDEA Project, SC/USDA. Aug. 2016. Guatemala. Pg 37

Not Business as Usual: Nurturing Country Ownership in Rwanda

By Andrew Wainer, Director, Policy Research. Department of Public Policy and Advocacy.

Akazi Kanoze is a USAID-supported project that includes strong partnerships with the Rwandan private sector to develop marketable skills for youth including welding.
Akazi Kanoze is a USAID-supported project that includes strong partnerships with the Rwandan private sector to develop marketable skills for youth including welding.

As the Trump Administration turns its attention to international development policy, it should endorse and deepen bipartisan principles – such as country ownership – that promote stability in developing nations and security for the United States.

As illustrated in the recently published report The Power of Ownership, USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) operate a variety of projects that exemplify country ownership principles and practices. The report, by Save the Children and Oxfam America, showcases examples in Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, and Rwanda where ownership promotes stability and self-sufficiency.

Over the long term, ownership establishes the foundation for new types of relationships with the United States. Eleven of the U.S.’s closest trading partners are past recipients of U.S. international assistance, and the developing world is one of the largest markets for U.S. exports.  Rwanda’s transition over the past 30 years illustrates the importance of country ownership in development.

The Rwandan Genocide

In 1994, the Rwandan Genocide lasted 100 days without international intervention before it was halted by the Rwandans themselves, when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) entered the country from neighboring Uganda.

By the time the genocide ended, an estimated 800,000 to 1 million people were dead. In the wake of the genocide, some estimated that Rwanda was the poorest country in the world. Findings from a 1995 survey of Rwandan children found that during the genocide 90 percent had witnessed killings, 35 percent lost an immediate family member, and 15 percent hid under a corpse.

Today it is a nation transformed. The World Bank rates Rwanda as the third best business climate in Africa and notes its “remarkable development success over the last decade which includes high growth, rapid poverty reduction and, since 2005, reduced inequality.”

Rwanda’s journey from the 1990s genocide to stability and economic growth owes much to the nation’s partnership with international donors. As the Power of Ownership report demonstrates, the Rwandan private sector plays a strong role in the country-led, inclusive growth the country has enjoyed in the decades following the genocide.

Akazi Kanoze

Akazi Kanoze – which means “a job well done” in Kinyarwanda, Rwanda’s native language – was designed to contribute to the national goal of generating 200,000 off-farm jobs annually for the country’s burgeoning population of unemployed youth. Since its inception in 2009, it has provided vocational skills and work readiness training to tens of thousands of Rwandan youth.

While it was launched in urban areas, it has expanded into the Rwandan countryside, and is now integrated into the government technical and vocational education and training (TVET) even reaching refugee communities on Rwanda’s western border.

Akazi Kanoze, started as a partnership between the U.S.-based NGO Educational Development Center (EDC), and key Rwandan employers in the construction, welding, hospitality, and childcare sectors, among others.   Working with civil society and business leaders, EDC helped strengthen and expand Rwanda’s TVET infrastructure and curriculum to better equip Rwandan youth to enter the workforce.  The project identified youth capacity gaps and labor market needs that were then addressed by Akazi Kanoze job skills training modules. The project design included a Rwandan business advisory council to ensure strong lines of communication with the local private sector and insight into the country’s labor market needs.

Today, the project continues in another form.  USAID and EDC worked with local staff to create an independent Rwandan nonprofit – Akazi Kanoze Access – to carry the project forward, diversifying funding beyond USAID.  With the financial support of a private foundation, Rwandans are now taking full leadership over the project.

Inspired by USAID’s Local Solutions initiative, Akazi Kanoze demonstrates one way that country ownership principles can be translated into action, helping to ensure that foreign assistance builds self-sufficiency rather than dependency.  Click here to learn more about Akazi Kanoze and watch a short video featuring the project.

Gaza’s Miracle Tomatoes

photo 1Crossing through the Israel’s Erez Crossing checkpoint and seeing the bleak landscape as you pass through the Fatah and Hamas checkpoints inside Gaza, it’s hard to imagine anything growing at all—let alone a flourishing garden. As we walked down the narrow pathway enclosed in wire mesh in the “no man’s land” of the Access Restricted Area, all we saw were donkeys pulling carts filled with rubble and surrounded by men and boys along harsh, rocky earth.  The boys and men salvage concrete, wire and metal from bombed out factories.  Others herd sheep and camels through dusty barren patches with little vegetation in sight. And it goes on like this for miles from the wall separating Gaza and Israel.  But just 20 minutes away, a farmer and his extended family met us on the dirt path and took us to see something entirely—and amazingly—different.

 

Outside a lush green field of healthy looking beans, spinach, and other vegetables and inside a simple greenhouse, he proudly pointed to row after row of beautiful red tomatoes literally falling off their vines.  This is the result of a recently-concluded project by Save the Children and other partners and funded by USAID, which helped farmers in Gaza feed their families and make a living.  The project provided help through improvement of water access and irrigation, as well as through technical training and provision of materials like plastic greenhouse sheeting.  The grandfather we visited had clearly benefited and was now running his small farm with much higher productivity and vastly increased ability to not only feed his family with his own vegetables but to take his crops to market.  There, he could sell it for needed income for additional food, school supplies for his children, and improved shelter for his large extended family, including several of his sons and their wives and children. The miracle tomatoes and beans and spinach were truly supporting them all.

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As we drove through the streets of Gaza and heard from residents about the impact of border crossing restrictions on children there—the rising rates of malnutrition and resulting stunting, the lack of basic medicines and care when children became sick, and the severe circumstances disabled children were in—I kept a hopeful thought in my head: those bursting red tomatoes we tasted on our visit.

 

They give me hope that children inside Gaza might see better days ahead, with good food to eat so they can thrive and grow like the magical garden that has been able to flourish the middle of dust and dirt.

Moms are the Heroes

We’ve all heard it before in one form or another: “Don’t get between a mother and her baby,” “There is nothing better (or worse depending on your position!) than a fired up mom” or “Mothers are their kids’ best advocates. However you phrase it, I see evidence of this everywhere I go for my work as Save the Children’s CEO and, I guess, Mom-in-Chief. It plays out whether I’m in Washington, DC or Lexington, Kentucky or the Bekka Valley of Lebanon. And during my trip last week to rural Nepal, I saw it again in full force.

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Guatemala: Heroes against Hunger

It’s hard to reconcile the beautiful highlands of Guatemala, where I was in mid-January, with this stark fact: the child malnutrition rate here is the highest in the Western hemisphere. Roughly 5 out of every 10 Guatemalan children suffer from chronic malnutrition. All

In This Case, Second Place Isn’t Something To Celebrate

Early this month I took my first trip to Abuja, Nigeria. Despite visiting almost 60 countries with Save the Children, I had never been to the West African nation. It is a country of over 162 million, one of the most populous in the region and seventh most populous in the world. With an average family size of almost 7, it has the highest population growth in Africa-today, one out of every four inhabitants of the African continent is a Nigerian. While Nigeria may top the charts in these ways, it also unfortunately has the second-highest number of under-5 deaths. I wanted to understand about why so many children, and especially newborns, are dying in Nigeria.

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Building government health systems in Bangladesh

Areba Panni

Areba Panni, Advisor-Strategic Communications,
MCHIP/Save the Children

Dhaka, Bangladesh

March 28, 2013


Bangladesh is a low-income nation in South Asia and one of
the most densely populated countries in the world.  Despite this, maternal mortality rates have decreased
by 40 percent since 2001 and the country is on track to achieve the Millennium
Development Goals (MDGs)
on reducing maternal and child deaths by 2015. In fact, only eight other countries out of
the 74 that account for most of the maternal and child deaths can claim this
achievement. Maternal deaths remain concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and
South Asia, an indication of global disparities in women’s access to much
needed care during pregnancy, delivery, and the postpartum period as well as
family planning services.  Bangladesh’s
astonishing progress in the health sector can be credited in part to the
government and communities working together at the district level to deliver
lifesaving assistance to mothers and babies in need.

An innovative safe motherhood project “MaMoni,” meaning
“mother-child,” has been supporting health systems coordination and service
delivery in fifteen sub-districts of rural Bangladesh since 2009.  Funded by the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID)
, the MaMoni project is run by Save the Children in
Bangladesh and two local NGOs, Shimantik and FIVDB, in partnership with Bangladesh’s
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The project aims to integrate household, community, and governmental
efforts to achieve improved health outcomes from the district level down to the
grassroots.  

As part of its reform agenda called “USAID Forward,” USAID is
focused on delivering results in an efficient and sustainable way, by building
the capacity of country governments and by providing more funds to country
governments directly. In Bangladesh, USAID
is boosting the capacity of the government to deliver health services to rural
areas. The agency has aligned its approach
with the government’s health sector strategy and for the first time is
investing $40 million over five years in the Bangladesh government through the
World Bank’s “Single Donor Trust Fund” to support health care and other
sectors. 

AidReform_Mariam BegumThe investment by the
United States and other donors to improve the government’s health service
delivery systems is making a big difference for women facing birth
emergencies. Last year, Mariam Begum,
who was living in a small village, was experiencing pain and heavy bleeding
following the birth of her child. A
local community volunteer, trained by MaMoni staff to recognize severe
conditions like Mariam’s, helped arrange her transport by a water ambulance to the
nearest government-owned health center where she was further evaluated. When the health center was unable to deal
with the severity of her condition, she was transferred to the district
hospital.  Mariam’s life was saved due to
the quick assessment of her condition by a community volunteer and the linkages
between the community and government health workers. 

In addition to facilitating
delivery of emergency services, MaMoni focuses on institution building and
community engagement and will assist the management of 11,000 community clinics
set up by the government in the country to roll out trainings for community
health care providers. MaMoni trains
government health workers to offer women pre- and post- pregnancy counseling,
birth assistance, vaccinations, and counseling on exclusive breastfeeding.

A network of more than 13,000 community volunteers set up and
trained by MaMoni respond to the needs of mothers and newborns, spot cases that
require treatment in health facilities, and help organize local health planning
meetings. The community volunteers collect health information from the
community and meet with frontline government health workers at the end of every
month to update registers. Large wall charts in the government’s family welfare
centers track where pregnant women live, their due dates, and whether they are
experiencing complications that should be monitored.   MaMoni staff are in regular dialogue with
the government to help improve their information systems and service delivery.

Based on these best practices from MaMoni, USAID is working
with other districts to introduce health systems strengthening projects. USAID’s ultimate goal is to demonstrate a
successful model and enable the government of Bangladesh to take it to scale throughout
the country.

USAID’s investments in
government capacity building help to ensure the long-term sustainability of
health programming in Bangladesh beyond the life of MaMoni and other
projects.   With these investments, survival
rates of at-risk mothers like Mariam increase and the coordination between
communities and the government improves the quality of and the access to women’s
health services throughout Bangladesh.

 

Are Kids of the World Doing Better? Not When it Comes to Hunger

Child Development Index 2012This week, we released our Child Development Index and the bottom line is: kids deserve a lot better. The Index ranks the best and worst places in the world to be a child based on education, health, and nutrition statistics.

 

While there is some good news in terms of education and child survival rates—33% more kids are in school now than in the 1990s and almost 5 million more kids surviving to age 5 per year—there is one part of the report that is really shocking. In the 21st century, we still have children in the world without enough to eat every day—and it’s gotten worse over the last decade, not better. The number of acutely malnourished children across the globe has actually risen since 2000. The situation is particularly