Many local government officials operate in settings with weak institutions and limited oversight. This study in Uganda evaluates the impact on accountability and quality of public services of putting budget information into the hands of local councilors and opinion leaders.

Policy Issue 

Local governments are crucial for public service provision. They collect taxes, draw up budgets, select contractors, report information to the central government, and manage resource flows. The recent wave of decentralization in developing countries has rendered local governments’ role all the more important. Yet many local government officials operate in settings with weak institutions and limited oversight. Increased budget transparency may result in improved accountability and quality of public services. If so, it is important to establish to whom budget information should be targeted.

This project departs from most empirical research on accountability by focusing explicitly on strengthening the oversight function of local elected representatives over their bureaucratic counterparts.

Context of the Evaluation 

Uganda, like many developing countries, suffers from poor quality basic service provision and weak mechanisms for accountability at the local level.  Uganda has a relatively strong track record in budget transparency, and is ranked second in Africa in the Open Budget Index.  However, these efforts have not been systematic, and it is unclear to which extent they have improved accountability. Due to a 2010 reform, the Ministry of Finance receives detailed project-by-project reports on budget allocations and alleged quarterly expenditures from local governments via an output based digital budget reporting tool. However, local stakeholders, including elected representatives whose mandate it is to monitor service provision, are largely unaware of this information.

To help address this problem, the Ugandan Ministry of Finance, ACODE, ODI, and IPA are launching a Budget Transparency Initiative to make department, project- and location-specific budget information available to politicians, opinion leaders, and the public; and to mobilize them to monitor and provide feedback on the spending and services provided by government institutions.

Details of the Intervention 

This study evaluates the impact on accountability and quality of public services of putting budget information into the hands of local councilors and opinion leaders.

The researcher will assess the impacts of different variations of the intervention among 256 study subcounties in 28 districts. The subcounties are randomly assigned to either (a) have councilors receive information on budget allocations and expenditures, in combination with a day-long training on how to interpret and use it, (b) have both councilors and local opinion leaders receive this information and training, or (c) receive no intervention (the status quo). The reason behind designing the second treatment arm is to enable elite constituents to demand that their political representatives use the budget information to monitor service delivery.

Councilors and local opinion leaders are receiving budget information in print-outs and through a toll-free hotline. The information is also available on an interactive website.

IPA will conduct the first follow-up survey 10 months after the study begins to assess the intervention’s impact on local politicians’ and opinion leaders’ knowledge of budget allocations and rights and responsibilities, their monitoring effort exerted by them, and dynamics in local councils. In late 2015, IPA will conduct a second follow-up survey to assess whether the intervention resulted in improved service delivery.

Results and Policy Lessons 

Project ongoing; results forthcoming