A Case for Gender-Responsive Budgeting in Myanmar | Economic Inequality | Taxes

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A country’s budget can be a powerful lever for social transformation. A budget is the tool a government has to help it translate national resources into allocations which meet the needs and aspirations of its population, and set the country on a path to sustainable and equitable development. If a budget does not account for the different needs of women and men, it is ‘gender-blind’ – i.e., it perpetuates inequality through biased spending. More often than not, national budgets favour men and the groups, institutions and systems that are led by men. In Myanmar, the budgetary process is largely male-led
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  1 INTRODUCTION  A country’s budget can be a powerful lever for social transformation. A budget is the tool a government has to help it translate national resources into allocations which meet the needs and aspirations of its population, and set the country on a path to sustainable and equitable development. Budgets are not politically ‘neutral’. What gets included in a budget is shaped not only by the people who decide the allocations but also the structures and histories that inform how those decisions are made. If a budget does not account for the dierent needs of women and men, it is ‘gender-blind’ – i.e., it perpetuates inequality through biased spending. More often than not, national budgets favour men and the groups, institutions and systems that are led by men.  A participatory government budget, which reects the needs of its people – including women, whose voices are often marginalized – can be used to put KEY MESSAGES ã Gender-responsive budgeting is a powerful tool for social transformation and can be used to address inequality ã Gender-responsive budgeting ensures that gender equality and women’s rights priorities are reected in policy discussions and result in robust programmes that address women’s needsã Gender-responsive budgeting does not necessarily mean an increase in overall budget; rather, it may involve increasing spending on certain sectors that address women’s needs and reduce gender inequality ã A rights-based framework that upholds transparency and accountability, and which fosters broad civic participation, is central to creating a successful gender-responsive budget  A CASE FOR GENDER RESPONSIVE BUDGETING IN MYANMAR  in place policies and spending that reduce gender inequality. Budgeting is a cross-ministerial process that is central to how governments function.  A participatory, gender-responsive budgeting approach can challenge the deep structural forces that systematically marginalize groups, especially women.International policy instruments, such as the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), provide the architecture for country-specic interventions that increase gender equality and promote women’s rights. 1 In Myanmar, the budgetary process is largely male-led; few women participate in formal decision making. Consequently, budgetary allocations that target women’s practical and strategic gender needs remain low. 2 This brieng paper has been prepared by ActionAid, CARE, the Women’s Organisations’ Network (WON) and Oxfam. It is based on a large study by a research team covering six States/Regions (Ayeyarwaddy, Kachin, Kayah, Magwe, Mon and Yangon), which involved 53 interviews and 13 focus group discussions.The study’s results demonstrate just how important it is for Myanmar to adopt gender-responsive budgeting in order to reduce inequality and help the country achieve its development goals. However, for gender-responsive budgeting to succeed, budgetary processes (including revenue collection and spending) must be redesigned to be more participatory. They should include mechanisms that promote accountable and transparent governance and reect the needs of men and women. Above all, budgets that embed gender equality in policy, as well as prioritizing its implementation, will help to propel Myanmar towards economic prosperity and cement its democratic commitments. 2 WHAT IS GENDER-RESPONSIVE BUDGETING? Gender-responsive budgeting is a process designed to incorporate gender dimensions in all stages of the budget cycle. Budgets are a powerful tool for ensuring that policy commitments are implemented. Gender-responsive budgeting explicitly recognizes that when it comes to policy promises, money talks – without concrete spending allocations, progressive policies will not be turned into reality. Gender-responsive budgeting therefore has ve main aims:ã To use gender-sensitive auditing and analytical tools to assess existing inequalities created by multiple and overlapping social, political and economic structures, and to identify policies and budget allocations that could alleviate these inequalities; ã To survey existing methods for revenue collection and expenditure to assess their ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ impacts on reducing inequality, and assess their impacts on women’s heavy and disproportionate unpaid care work responsibilities; ã To raise awareness on gender issues and develop policies to mainstream gender within various phases of budgetary processes in order to embed commitments to gender equality; ã To promote accountable and transparent processes that nurture people’s participation in the decision making processes that aect their lives; and ã To alter expenditure and revenue collection to strengthen gender equality and monitor/evaluate the eciency of these allocations. 3 WHY IS GENDER-RESPONSIVE BUDGETING IMPORTANT FOR MYANMAR? In Myanmar, new and previously unforeseen political, social and economic reforms are opening up opportunities for change. In the landmark election of November 2015, 64 women were elected as Members of Parliament (MPs) to both upper and lower houses combined, comprising almost 10 percent of all MPs; of this, 23 out of 224 seats went to women in the  Amyotha Hluttaw  (Upper House) and 41 out of 433 seats went to women in the Pyithu Hluttaw  (Lower House). More than twice as many women were elected to this government compared to its predecessor. 3 Myanmar has also made a commitment to tackling gender inequality. In 2013, the government launched its own National Strategic Plan for the  Advancement of Women (NSPAW), based on 12 priority areas of the BPfA and the principles of CEDAW. It calls on the government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and development partners to resource and implement plans so that ‘enabling systems, structures and practices are created for the advancement of women, gender equality, and the realization of women’s rights’. 4 Cultural barriers can often inhibit women from accessing essential services. At the same time, spending on budget lines such as health, education and social protection – services which evidence shows overwhelmingly benet women – is very low in Myanmar. 5  There is also a need to invest in prevention of and response to gender-based violence. Ensuring that women can access these key services is not only about realizing their rights, it is about building a healthy, skilled and economically robust Myanmar – which is, in itself, dependent on boosting investment in these core services for women as well as men. This view was supported by women who were interviewed for this research. While the Government of Myanmar urges resourcing for the NSPAW to advance women’s rights,  6  there is little budgetary allocation to take this plan forward. Without funds to help incentivize ocials, redesign curricula, ensure that women and girls are able to access core government services, and reach out to the public with messaging and awareness-raising campaigns, it is unlikely that this policy commitment will turn into reality unless the government takes steps towards gender-responsive budgeting. Box 1 outlines the areas where gender-responsive budgeting could make a real impact. BOX 1. WHAT COULD GENDER-RESPONSIVE BUDGETING IN MYANMAR SUPPORT? Reductions in gender inequality  : By helping to prioritize spending on core services like health, education and social protection, which are proven to benet women and their families, and by putting in place dedicated spending for policies like NSPAW and legislation to protect and prevent violence against women, gender-responsive budgeting could help reduce inequality and suering. Budgets that respond to people’s needs : Globally, evidence nds that increasing women’s participation in governance typically leads to decision making that is more responsive to women’s needs and preferences.  7  When budgets respond to people’s needs, allocation of national resources is not just more equitable but also more ecient. The recognition of unpaid care work : Gender- responsive budgeting can help account for unpaid care work within the home and community. Women carry out most of this work, but it is usually undocumented and often undervalued. This leads to decisions that fail to address women’s unpaid care work or even increase the burden of women’s work inside and outside the home – for example, cutting funding for public services, or designing infrastructure in a way that does not meet women’s needs. This creates time poverty for women and reduces their chances of participating in the economy and in public life. If unpaid care work is accounted for, governments can also choose to implement social transfers to women to recognize this contribution. Transfers like this do not only benet women but their families too, because when family incomes rise, women typically invest a greater proportion of that income in goods and services for their children (e.g. food and education) than men do. Greater budget transparency and deeper political engagement : Budget transparency and accountability in Myanmar are still very weak, and the new government needs to take steps to improve overall transparency and accountability within the budget process. Putting in place measures towards gender-responsive budgeting would go some way to getting women and men actively participating in the governance of their country. It would help individuals to make informed and eective choices and engage in public dialogue in order to increase peoples’ overall wellbeing. 8 This brieng paper has been written by Jasmine Burnley (Oxfam), Melanie Hilton (ActionAid) Poe Ei Phyu (Oxfam) and Nilar Tun (CARE) and is based on research in six States/Regions across Myanmar led by Paul Minoletti   Development Aairs Organizations  are an additional form of municipal government in urban areas, which operate at the Township level. These organizations dier from other levels of subnational governance in the following ways: (1) they are the only subnational governance entity entirely under the control of State governments; (2) they are entirely self-funded (i.e. they rely on revenue they collect through taxes, fees and charges levied on citizens and businesses in their Township – they do not receive transfers from higher levels of government); and (3) they have a considerable level of discretion over how their funds are spent. 9 This makes them an important level of administration to engage with on gender-responsive budgeting.  Areas that are under the control of Non State  Authorities or Ethnic Armed Groups , levy taxes and fees from people, and directly provide them with public services. A number of Ethnic  Armed Groups also permit certain other local organizations to provide public services in areas they control. 10 BOX 2: LOCAL DEVELOPMENT FUNDS There are a growing number of local development funds in Myanmar, which (along with Development  Aairs Organizations) are starting to oer the rst real opportunities for local authorities to develop spending plans based on local priorities. These funds are supported by a variety of actors – a mix of development partners and government nancing – and vary in the extent to which they involve the public in consultation or decision making around allocations:ã Constituency Development Fund (CDF) : Transfers of 100m kyat per year directly from the Union level to each Township in Myanmar. Decision making on how to spend the funds rests with two MPs that represent the Township at Union level, and two MPs that represent the Township in the State parliament. The CDF oers no explicit role for communities in budgetary decision making. ã National Community Driven Development Project (NCDDP) : Funded by grants and loans administered by the World Bank, this project is run by the Department for Rural Development (DRD). Village Tracts in pilot areas set up committees, which allocate annual block grants (fund distribution is dependent on the size of population) over the course of four years, towards local infrastructure. 11 ã  Village Development Plan (VDP) : Launched in early 2015 and run by the DRD, the VDP is designed to help villages create strategic and integrated development plans that will inform planning at higher levels. Villages included in the scheme each receive 10m kyat to fund selected development projects. While a Township Multi-Sectoral Planning Team decides on allocations, 12  there are processes to involve villagers in project decision making through Participatory Rapid  Appraisal techniques and village development committees. ã Green Emerald Fund (GEF) : Launched in 2014, the GEF is administered by the DRD. Selected villages receive a xed amount of 30m kyats (the fund value varies between Townships, but is xed per village). The money is distributed as loans to individuals for agricultural and other entrepreneurial activities. Interest rates are low (between 0.5 percent and 1.5 percent a month). 13   An elected village management committee (in which women’s participation is very limited) decides whether to grant loans to applicants, based on selection criteria of proposals submitted and poverty ranking. UNION The government at Union level has access to six main sources of nance:ã taxã net prots from state-owned enterprises and returns from ownership of natural resources, and other non-tax revenue (fees, nes and penalties) ã internal borrowing (i.e. borrowing from Myanmar citizens and/or institutions) ã external borrowing (i.e. borrowing from foreign citizens and/or institutions) ã printing moneyã aid grants from other countries. SUBNATIONAL(STATE / REGION) Funding mechanisms include: ã revenues raised by subnational governments ã transfers from the Union government ã local development funds ã funding from international development partners. DISTRICT District-level governments have no authority to allocate funds. They are responsible for monitoring, administrating, and reporting to higher levels of government. TOWNSHIP Township authorities are responsible for collecting most taxes, and for enacting expenditure directives from the Union and State Parliaments.The vast majority of tax revenues collected at township level are passed up to higher levels of government. Most goes to the Union budget, the rest goes to the State/Region and Township budgets.  VILLAGE WARD Village tract/ward authorities are responsible for collecting some taxes, which are passed up to higher levels of government, such as the ‘Land Tax’.The village administrator can collect unnamed taxes for various ad-hoc purposes, such as irrigation repair, village celebrations or sporting events.  Figure 1: Funding Myanmar’s budget – how revenues are collected4 HOW DOES MYANMAR’S BUDGET WORK? Myanmar’s nancial year runs from 1 April to 31 March. Between September and November each year, State-level ministries/departments and State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), submit budget proposals to the State Budget Department. After reviewing and editing these proposals, the budget is submitted to the Chief Minister, who presents it to Parliament for approval. Each November, State and Regional parliaments, together with Union line ministries, submit their annual budget proposals to the Vice President and Financial Commission for approval. After review and any adjustments, The ‘Tampon Tax’ Women’s rights advocates the world over are calling for governments to lift taxes on essential feminine sanitary products such as pads and tampons. In a TIME Magazine interview, president Obama stated that taxing these items as “luxury goods” is probably because “men wrote the laws”. the budget is discussed and debated in the Union Parliament between January and March. The budget is enacted at the beginning of April. See Figure 1 below for how Myanmar collects revenues.  The ‘ annual budget ’ is a plan for how much the government intends to spend in the coming nancial year. The ‘ supplementary budget ’ is an updated plan to account for spending needs changing from what was srcinally planned in the annual budget. The ‘ executed budget ’ is a record of how much was actually spent in the previous nancial year.  Actual spending can dier signicantly from planned spending. Findings… ã Interviews with ocials from Township-level health, education and social welfare departments conrmed the negative impact of low budget allocations on their ability to provide public services. Findings… ã Interviews indicated that eective parliamentary debate was hampered by the reluctance of many MPs to speak out or vote against a government bill, even if they personally disagree with it. ã Neither the public or civil society are involved in any level of Union budget making. ã Only 2 women (out of a total of 15-20 members) are members of the National Planning, Union Budget and Tax Law Committee.   Figure 2: Overview of Budget Allocations for Myanmar 5 Key fndings Do current budget allocations match Myanmar’s development goals? Myanmar’s spending on health, education and social welfare is extremely low. Expenditure on education and health has seen big increases between 2011/12 and 2014/15, but decades of under-investment in these sectors means that Myanmar has a long way to go on scaling up the needed increases. At the same time, spending on social welfare has actually fallen, both in absolute terms and as a share of the budget. In 2014/15, spending on social welfare was only 0.1 percent of total government expenditure. 14  By contrast, in the same year, Myanmar spent more on defence than on education, health and social welfare combined in 2014/15, Myanmar’s defence outlay was the 19th highest in the world and the highest in South-East Asia, East Asia and South Asia. 15 The following year 2015/16, Myanmar’s military spending was even bigger - accounting for over 13 percent of the total expenditure.Low budgetary allocations to the Department of Social Welfare in particular aect women and children because these groups already face high levels of inequality and vulnerability, and have signicant caring responsibilities for other vulnerable groups. Policy interventions that would depend on funding from this department – including aspects of the NSPAW – have consequently been largely excluded from budgetary discussions and decision making. At the subnational level, just over half of expenditures in States and Regions are spent by the Public Works Department, which is responsible for building and maintaining infrastructure – roads, bridges, airports and other State-owned buildings. While there is a strong need for infrastructure development, much of what is prioritized reects the needs of men rather than women – which, as our research showed, tend to dier. This can be because women are often not consulted when infrastructure is designed, so their specic needs are not taken into account. Low budgetary allocations to social services also compromise Myanmar’s ability to meet its policy commitments on women’s rights and gender equality as set out in the government’s Framework for Economic and Social Reforms (2012–15). This framework represents a commitment by government to reduce gender gaps in literacy among primary schoolchildren and to do more to prevent violence against women and human tracking. 16  It also includes an important commitment to improve maternal health. 17  All of these are threatened by low allocations. More than halfway into the nancial year, the Union government submits a supplementary budget to Parliament for approval. This typically results in increased expenditure allocations across all line ministries and States, although this increase is far from uniform. Is Myanmar’s budget process transparent and is budget information readily available to the public? Budget transparency is essential for advancing gender-responsive budgeting. The availability of disaggregated data allows citizens to eectively analyse the size of government’s revenue, revenue sources, revenue allocation and the budgetary decision making process. In order to foster good governance principles of transparency and accountability, and to facilitate gender-responsive budgeting, it is critical that governments develop budgetary systems that enable people to identify the following: ã Who is paying tax revenue?ã Who is receiving the goods and services the government provides, and at what nancial cost to the government?ã What impact does the government’s provision of goods and services have on people’s welfare? Currently, Myanmar scores very poorly with respect to making budget documentation available to the public; although the annual and supplementary budgets are published, the executed budget is not made publicly available, and neither are Union budget reports, external audit reports, all contract awards above $100,000, or a range of other information that would be of public interest. 18  The government has taken steps to tackle this in recent months. In December 2015, it published its rst Citizens Budget in Myanmar language, but to date this document has not been made widely available and there has been no attempt to raise public awareness of it either. Publicly available data in Myanmar only allows for budget tracking by Ministry (excluding additional allocations made via supplementary budgets, as the publication of State-level annual and supplementary budgets is often delayed), and restricts analysis to capital and current spending. Critically, it is dicult to gauge exact spending by sector as this does not align with spending by ministry. For example, total government spending on education includes not only spending by the Ministry of Education, but all money spent on education. As many as 17 ministries operate their own universities, oering specialized training to citizens, but this spending is recorded separately under each of the respective ministries and is not consolidated in the publicly available data as spending on education. 19  There are also gaps in the government’s budget, which make it impossible to build a comprehensive picture of overall allocations. Disaggregated data that is easily available and accessible to civil society is crucial to analysing the impact of budgetary processes on men and women, which would be part of any gender-responsive budgeting process. The high level of aggregation of budget data in Myanmar currently, makes this extremely challenging. Do those involved in budget decision making take women’s needs into account? Union level  Historically, budget decision making at the Union level is male-dominated. In the previous government, only 2 of the 33 line ministries were led by women. 20  While women’s overall representation in Myanmar’s civil service is high (52 percent), women are strongly under-represented in the most senior civil service positions within line ministries (Director-General, and Deputy Director-General) 21  – i.e. the positions with most decision making power. To date, there is no public involvement in any Union-level budget making, which means that civil society – including women’s organizations or those that support women’s rights – are also excluded. Nor is there any indication that the needs of specic groups, including women, are taken into account. Source: Oo, Bonnerjee et al., 2015, p. 20
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