Georgia Budget Monitor

Branch of Government:
Supreme Audit Institution

Open Budget Survey / Public Participation in the Budget Process Score (Out of 100): 2015: 46 – 2017: 22

Stage in Fiscal Policy Cycle

Audit

Summary

Banner

This case was produced by the State Audit Office of Georgia and it was one of the three recipients of the 2017 GIFT Public Participation in Fiscal Policy and Budget Making Award.

Realizing the significance of citizens’ active involvement in overseeing public resource management, State Audit Office of Georgia (SAOG) developed an innovative tool for citizen engagement – Budget Monitor (BM).[1]

BM is a unique analytical web-platform, which provides comprehensive information about the public finances, designed from auditor’s perspective via different data visualization tools, such as interactive and user-friendly diagrams, info-graphics and tables. Moreover, web portal’s info-buttons enable visitors to get definitions of the key national indicators, also explain how presented graphs and tables can be used for in-depth data analysis.

The web-platform enables citizens to filter, choose, compare, sort and export consolidated information about the state and municipal budgets (administrative costs, public debt, state purchases, budget deficit, capital projects, reserve funds, etc.), audit findings and corresponding recommendations in easy-to-interpret way. Namely, BM gives visitors opportunity to examine over hundreds of SAOG audit reports annually, expenditures of 62 spending entities, 76 municipal budgets and over 400 state programs.

BM ensures the breadth and depth of public scrutiny, so that no issue is left out of citizens’ notice. For example, citizens are able to get detailed information on how many people are employed at spending agencies and what is their compensation, how many vehicles does the government own and how much is spent on their maintenance, what is the share of bonuses and salary supplements in total compensation of employees of the spending agencies; how is the State Budget allocated between programs of different spending agencies; which programs are funded from the State Budget, and how are the capital projects implemented; what is the budget of each municipality; what are the systemic deficiencies in public procurement procedures and etc.

SAOG’s main goal while developing this web platform was not only to promote greater transparency of public finances, but to equip citizens with sufficient information for external public scrutiny and empower their participation in government decision making. In Georgia, where public participation in state affairs still remains fairly low, SAOG decided to encourage citizen engagement initiatives with leading by example. For this reason, SAOG’s new web-platform enables citizens to engage constructively throughout the audit cycle. Via BM citizens can send audit requests, suggestions, proposals, inform SAOG about the deficiencies in the PFM system, contribute to the reduction of corruption risks and suggest the priority spheres for future audit(s). The possibility of two-way communication provided by the BM encourages citizens to participate in the monitoring process of public administration that should ultimately contribute to the improvement of good governance.

Basic Facts

a) Stage in Fiscal Policy Cycle: SAOG reviews citizens’ requests /proposals and if applicable, considers them for the next year’s audit plan. Therefore, via BM, public participation takes place at the last stage of the fiscal policy cycle, which is an audit stage.

b) Lead institution: SAOG is the Supreme Audit Institution of Georgia with the highest professional standards, which is guaranteed to be independent in its activities by the law. With its work SAOG supports the Parliament in overseeing the activities of the government, as well as to strengthen accountability and transparency of the public sector and to ensure efficient and effective management of public finances.

c) Levels of Government involved: As established by the existing legislative framework, the audit mandate of SAOG covers the operations of the central government, local self-governing entities, autonomous republics, State-owned Enterprises (SOEs), Legal Entities of Public Law (LEPLs) and other public institutions, which use/manage budget funds or assets of State, Autonomous Republics or Local Self-Governments. Accordingly, BM covers all public finance information at all levels.

Why

Citizen participation is instrumental in enhancing government’s transparency and accountability for the use of public resources. Improving citizens’ engagement can be seen as a convenient mean to promote openness and transparency and to reduce corruption.

Regardless of the considerable progress achieved by Georgia across the various indicators of the Open Budget Index[2], public engagement still remains an area in need of improvement. SAOG finds that far more needs to be done in order to achieve sustainable public participation. According to Open Budget Survey of 2015, Georgia received the relatively good mark of 66 and is among the group of substantially transparent countries. However, Georgia does not yet score highly on public participation aspects of the Open Budget Index ranking.[3] Georgia’s score in public participation is 46 out of 100, which indicates that the public is provided with limited opportunities to engage in budget processes.[4]

Even though government agencies provide and publish vital fiscal details, they are rarely understandable for citizens, who are taxpayers and own the right to know how public finances are spent. The new platform equips citizens, legislators, non-government organizations and media with a powerful investigative tool, which makes it easier to conduct well-informed examinations of state revenues and expenditures, state procurement, public debt, administrative expenses, capital projects, budgetary information, audit findings and recommendations. Likewise, government itself is able to better recognize inefficiencies in the public financial management system and work for further improvements.

They can make a request to SAOG to conduct an audit on specific issues for the sake of public interests. Thus, people can have profound impact on improving PFM through their participation in SAOG’s audit works and following up the government responses to SAOG’s audit recommendations.

In summary, the main objectives why BM was developed are to:

  1. Increase transparency and government accountability;
  2. Increase public awareness of the budgetary process/ how budget money is spent;
  3. Improve Parliamentary oversight of government operations;
  4. Develop channels for two-way communications between the SAOG and other stakeholders;

Increase and sustain involvement of citizens, NGOs, and CSOs, and Parliamentarians in the PFM process;

Authorizing Environment

There is no specific law or regulation that directs officials to engage the public. Although the current legislation provides various spaces for CSOs and citizens’ involvement in the public financial management, these spaces are not yet fully utilized; this is also due to the lack of associational culture and organized civil society at the national and local level, poor capacities of the government, a deficit of know-how, a regulatory base, and the resources required for implementing innovative approaches to citizen engagement. Existing practices are very unevenly distributed across the country and rely mainly on activism and resources of local CSOs.

From the standpoint of the SAOG, embarking on a path of demonstrating its value, benefits and relevance to citizens (ISSAI 12)[5], SAOG highly supports and practices citizen participation for the betterment of public administration. SAOG leverages citizen engagement in the external audit process and this activity is a part of its corporate and citizen engagement strategic plans.

Georgia was among the first countries to adhere to the principles of OGP by joining the initiative in September 2011. Under the OGP Action Plan of Georgia 2016-2017, Commitment 14: Increasing citizen participation in supervision of public finances (Public Audit) [6], SAOG took responsibility, in cooperation with the civil sector, to provide mechanisms that would ensure constructive citizen participation in the audit cycle and developed a new innovative web platform – Budget Monitor.

  1. In terms of the general enabling environment, these are the provisions:The Constitution[7] – The Constitution provides a general enabling environment by giving citizens the right to request and take information, have civil rights and obligations.

Article 24

  1. Everyone shall be free to receive and disseminate information, to express and disseminate his/her opinion orally, in writing, or otherwise; 2. Mass media shall be free. Censorship shall be inadmissible; 3. Neither the State nor particular individuals shall have the right to monopolize mass media or the means of dissemination of information.

SAOG is anchored on and animated by the following constitutional provisions:

  1. Parliament shall control public expenditure through the State Audit Office.
  2. SAOG shall supervise the use and expenditure of public funds and other material values. It shall also have the right to examine the activities of other state bodies of fiscal and economic control and to submit proposals for improving tax legislation to Parliament.
  3. SAOG shall be independent in its activity. It shall be accountable to the Parliament of Georgia.
  4. The powers, structure, and rules of operation of the State Audit Office shall be defined and its independence shall be guaranteed by law.
  1. The General Administrative Code of Georgia[8], which regulates the Freedom of Information in Georgia, was adopted in 1999. Though it was a little bit outdated and had some very significant imperfections in means of technological achievements, mostly related to e-Governance and e-Transparency. The obligation for the government agencies to proactively publish public information and provide the mechanism for electronic request of public information became part of the Georgian legislation from September 1, 2013.[9]

Law of Georgia on State Audit Office[10]that establishes that the SAOG is a supreme audit institution of Georgia, and it is financially, functionally and organizationally independent.

Who and How

As a consequence of the research, cycle of discussions and consultations with the multiple stakeholders, the SAOG decided to build the web platform to better meet the urgent needs of society. Furthermore, after SAOG prepared a beta-version of the platform, it was directly sent to CSOs and media, for further comments and suggestions.

The design and implementation process of the BM can be presented as the following steps:

  1. Research: At the first stage, SAOG studied the best citizen engagement practices implemented by other Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs), in order to capture lessons learned and share good international experience. During the research stage, SAOG directly contacted different SAIs, like Philippines, India and South Korea, which are among the most successful supreme audit institutions in the field of citizen engagement in the audit process. This initial stage was helpful in assessing positive and negative aspects of incorporating citizens in audit process taking into consideration stakeholders’ needs, country context, risks, challenges, opportunities, costs, etc.
  2. Defining needs: SAOG conducted an opinion survey to explore i) the level of citizens’ awareness regarding audit reports, also to assess ii) citizens’ need to use ICT-based solution and iii) readiness to engage in audit process. Results of the survey showed that the majority of the respondents have willingness to contribute to the oversight of public financial management via their active participation. Citizens supported the idea of implementing ICT-based web-platform, which would display main budgetary issues, SAOG audit results and their recommendations in a simpler language and enable them to interact with SAO activities. They were particularly impressed with the idea of citizens’ page.
  3. Developing concept: As a consequence of the research, opinion surveys, set of preliminary discussions & consultations with multiple stakeholders, SAOG developed a project proposal, including prototype of web platform to advance citizens’ participation in audit process.
  4. Consultation with stakeholders and feedback: With a stakeholder-inclusive approach, the SAOG, by the decree of the Auditor General, formed consulting working group, consisting of CSOs, research and academic institutions of Georgia and works on strengthening civil society participation. The SAOG conducted a set of multi-stakeholder meetings, roundtables and discussions with the members of Parliament, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), media and academia, to receive their feedback on the concept of the project before actually jumping into implementation phase.
  5. Fundraising: During this stage SAOG presented its project proposal “Advancing Public Participation in the Audit Process in Georgia” to every possible donor, and finally was successfully financed by the World Bank. The eight-month grant project’s objective was to develop core technical conditions for the development and operationalization of stakeholders’ engagement across the audit cycle. Amongst other things, the project supported greatly to finance the development of new web platform.
  6. Design and implementation: SAOG contracted a consultant organization for the design, development, testing, and integration of the web-platform, along with corresponding training and post-implementation support. The selected organization worked jointly with the SAOG staff, taking a rapid prototyping approach ensuring that the portal met the SAOG’s needs and users’ expectations.
  7. Testing: Before launching the Budget Monitor, the SAOG assured that all functionalities worked as intended and content presented on the web-platform was error-free.
  8. Final launching and official presentations: the BM was launched and officially presented at theParliament of Georgia in March of 2017. Since then, the BM is available for public use (http://budgetmonitor.ge/en). For physical visibility of the web platform, the SAOG has also developed kiosks for BM and placed them in the buildings of Parliament. [11]
  9. Outreach: After the completion of the project, an outreach campaign was a crucial step. SAOG made a promotional video on the BM explaining how to search the information on the platform and how to use the citizens’ page. The video clip was shared in social media, TV, etc. Besides, 13 presentations were held in the regions of Georgia and in 6 local self-governing entities, so that every citizen could voice their opinion and engage actively. The presentations were also conducted to the representatives of Parliament of Georgia, media, CSOs and NGOs, academia/students, as well as international conferences and events.
  10. Maintenance and sustainability: the SAOG ensures the sustainability of BM with its continual development and upgrade. The SAOG continues working on its constant improvement so that it is always responsive to the publics’ demands and interests and remains useful instrument for citizens. Moreover, the SAOG has created a citizen engagement strategy and the action plan to institutionalize engagement activities into daily work. The SAOG also drafted the operational manual, which includes the detailed policy and procedure framework of BM, that assigns responsibilities, defines the role of each sectoral audit department in managing citizens’ requests and determines timeframe for every stage. It is also of high importance to enhance the capacity of all stakeholders and to maintain the conditions for operationalization of a jointly defined strategy and action plan to engage non-state actors in the audit process. Since the BM is fully functional, it does not need any extra investment, except when new modules should be added to the web-platform. Day-to-day maintenance costs are minor and are covered by the SAOG. Nevertheless, the platform needs to be developed and upgraded periodically in order to maintain the continuous interest among stakeholders.

Descriptions of the process, structure and components of citizen engagement initiative

The SAOG uses a risk-based model while managing citizens’ requests. To handle citizen’s request in a timely and organized manner, the SAOG follows the BM’s operational manual, which discusses every step of the process in detail. Furthermore, it defines responsibilities in the SAOG, and timeframe and procedures for every step.

Each request made by citizens is given a unique code that enables the requester to check whether the request is rejected or accepted. The requests, which do not satisfy the following criteria: (1) Pursues public interests; (2) Demonstrates non-political interest and (3) is feasible, are rejected. In case of rejection, the requester gets a detailed explanation why the request was rejected within a10-day period from the receipt of the request.

The requests which comply with the abovementioned criteria are sent to different sectoral audit departments. The relevant audit department is responsible to further proceed with the request. During the process, the requester is able to monitor the status of the request.

If the citizen’s request, concern or suggestion is related with the ongoing audit, it will be considered in a short period of time (1-3 months). In case the request is regarding a complex issue, which does not belong to the existing annual audit plan, the strategic planning department coordinates the discussion and inclusion in next year’s audit plan. The BM also gives citizens the opportunity to vote for priority spheres, the latter is also taken into consideration while planning for the next year.

Finally, citizens are informed via the BM, (i) when the request-based audits are initiated and (ii) when the audits are finalized. According to the operational manual, the SAOG has a procedural requirement to produce case studies and success stories after completion of citizen-initiated audits, indicating impacts that request-based audit findings & recommendations generated or to begenerated. The SAOG will record all stories of citizens’ engagement in audit process including the information about what were the citizens’ requests, what actions the SAOG undertook, what were the audit results and the follow up of the recommendations. Those citizens that engaged in the audit process should be able to spot that their contributions were taken into account and finally led to improvements in public financial management.

According to the operational manual, the SAOG has a procedural requirement to produce case studies and success stories after completion of citizen-initiated audits, indicating impacts that request-based audit findings & recommendations generated/will generate. Sharing successful examples and providing evidence that citizens’ engagement is making a real difference, will make citizens motivated to continue with their participation and become actively engaged in audit process. They will see that this is their chance to combat corruption and make an impact on Government transparency and accountability.

It is worth mentioning, that citizens can access the BM website from any type of computers, tablets and smartphones and can download any content for later usage in discussions and reviews. Those who do not have access to the internet can send their concerns or suggestions via post service and get updates by calling on SAOG’s hot line.

Results and Impact

Information disclosure is a necessary but not sufficient condition for achieving accountability. More emphasis should be put on increasing public engagement, rather than merely disclosing information. That was exactly the goal of SAOG in the pursuit of its mission – developing the two-way communication mechanism, through which informed citizens can report instances of suspected wrongdoing for SAOG to investigate, which significantly advances the audit process.

Since 2015, the SAOG has had the willingness to incorporate citizens’ input in audit work; therefore, the organization started to accept citizens’ requests and complaints via post service. During the last two years SAOG received 16 citizen requests, out of which 10 were included in the annual audit plan. Even though there was a high rate (63%) of accepted proposals, the nominal amount of received requests/complaints was much lower than it was desired by SAOG.

Aiming to tackle the low citizen participation, SAOG came up with an innovative ICT-based solution – Budget Monitor, which enables citizens to send their requests online without much effort. It is noteworthy that the web-platform has already led to some promising results. Currently, BM has more than hundred unique users per day and the number of visitors continuously increases; more importantly, the rate of received citizen proposals has significantly risen up compared to previous two years – during the six-month period after launching the BM, SAOG has already received 22 audit requests through the platform, which are going through the preliminary study process by relevant sector audit departments. Citizens have expressed their concerns regarding:

  • social welfare;
  • healthcare;
  • public infrastructure and construction projects;
  • deficiencies in the procurement process;

With the development of the BM, more citizens were encouraged to actively participate in the audit process, and as a result their involvement has surely increased. Submitted citizen proposals have helped the SAOG to identify the priority audit areas, which are of greatest public interest; increasing the amount of citizens’ requests and complaints add value to the audit process, making it more comprehensive and interesting for the general public. However, the actual impact of citizen engagement in the audit process will be measured after the request-based audits are carried out.

In terms of the problem that was set to be solved with this practice, in recent years, Georgia has experienced rapid progress in reforming its Public Financial management (PFM) sector and ensuring transparency of public finance in line with its European and international commitments, however, strengthening public participation in decision-making and public finance at both national and local levels remains a serious challenge.

Although information transparency is considered an important pre-condition, the prospects for PFM accountability are higher when public access to information is combined with opportunities for citizens to participate in the PFM process, to voice their concerns and to influence fiscal policies. When it comes to direct public involvement in PFM oversight, the existing regulations and practice in Georgia is not yet advanced. Neither current policy frameworks provide clear guidance for improving the situation.

There are several challenges identified in Georgia:

  1. Lack of people’s awareness of the right to access public records: World Justice Project (WJP) Open Government Index 2015 has shown, that Georgian citizens have little information of their legitimate rights including the right of requesting the public information. The country’s lowest score, 0.51, was obtained in category for Publicized laws and Government data. Only 21% of Georgians demonstrated awareness about their right to information, against the world average of 40%.
  2. Citizens do not exploit public information: According to the same survey, the number of people who had ever requested information from the government was only 8 percent.[12]
  3. Lack of public awareness in public finance issues: The qualitative research of SAOG, which was carried out by Georgian Opinion Research Business International (GORBI) in 2015 at the request of the SAOG aimed to examine levels of public awareness of the PFM issues, SAOG itself, reforms carried out by the SAOG and auditing in general. It revealed that people has low awareness about SAOG and public finance issues, at the same time they showed interest about being actively involved in the audit process in order to contribute to the improvement of governance.
  4. Complexity of information provided by governmental bodies and SAOG: Even if the access to information is guaranteed by law, citizens find it difficult to deal with complex budgetary issues and analyze the information presented on official governmental websites. They are filled with many technical jargon that the ordinary readers cannot easily understand. Furthermore, it is time-consuming to read and analyze complex and huge amounts of technical information represented in the audit reports of SAOG and become aware of crucial audit findings and deficiencies in the PFM system. That is why public finance issues are generally less well understood and often hidden from public scrutiny.

People need information in an accessible, understandable form to enable them to understand what government is doing with their money and allow them to participate in PFM. Scrutiny of citizens can help improving the efficiency, responsiveness and accountability of government and guarding against corruption.

  1. Timeliness, accuracy and completeness of the information provided: Although the frequency of demanding public information by citizens is lower, the rate of information disclosure by state authorities is significantly high (94%). However, timely delivery of information scored less, according to the respondents only 59% of requested public information was provided in less than a week. There are also other obstacles, such as content of official governmental web pages as well as their technical level. Some public agencies do not keep their website updated and provide the data in a complex and ambiguous manner, that makes it difficult for citizens to cope with the information, make a proper analysis and assess the public financial management.
  2. Insufficient mechanism to make citizens informed: According to the survey, only 39% thinks that the Government provides sufficient information on their legal rights. The score of access to information on budget expenses was even lower. The question, how well does the government inform people about expenditures, was positively answered by 32% of respondents.
  3. Insufficient mechanisms to incorporate citizen participation: Measuring the effectiveness of civic participation mechanisms, the number of citizens saying that communication with local authorities and citizens before decision-making is effective, constitutes only 32% in Thus, interms of civic participation, the way of communication between citizens and decision-making officials is not effectively developed.[13]

The publication, “Mid-term Performance Evaluation of the Good Governance in Georgia (G3) Program”[14]evaluated government transparency, accountability and effectiveness of government mechanisms for public engagement in Georgia. The paper confirmed that the main reason, why government is not completely transparent, why there is so low level of public participation and why citizens avoid public participation and engagement is that they do not see the value of it and are not aware of their rights. Besides, they lack of understanding in public finance issues and awareness of the work of SAOG, which they can get benefit from.

  1. Insufficient complaint mechanism: One of the country’s lowest score of 0.57 was obtained in the category of complaint mechanisms. In the latter category, citizens were evaluating the activities of local authorities in following two directions: How well does the local government provide ways to make complaints about public services? How well does the local government provide ways to handle complaints against local officials? Slightly more than a third of the respondents gave positive answers to both questions (37% and 35% respectively). There is a lack of practical ability of people to make complaints about public officials or services to various government officers, and the response to such complaints.

Most of the focus group members during the research of GORBI supported the idea of developing a web platform that could be a central source of SAOG information. They expressed an interest to use the digital platform and engage in oversight process. Besides, they would prefer a simpler language and centralized system of information, which would be easily navigable. They were especially impressed with the idea of  a citizens’ page.

The SAOG’s initiative to develop the digital platform was a step forward to build a stronger, more responsive relationship with citizens, to respond to their needs and create impact. Leveraging the BM and engaging with citizens, facilitated broader outreach and the timely dissemination of information. In the short-term perspective, the BM already enhanced awareness and understanding of important public finance matters. BM is attracting many users, whose adequate needs and requests are identified and addressed. Public awareness of the importance of auditing in the public sector and of monitoring public finances in general is increasing, which enables them to make more relevant and value-added requests that SAOG will include in audit plans. Citizens also started to realize that their participation matters.

The SAOG increased people’s awareness about the usefulness and benefits of their participation and energized citizen engagement. The potential of civil engagement at this stage of the auditing process in Georgia is probably at its height.

External references

The British daily newspaper “The Guardian” mentioned the Budget Monitor in its article among the successful initiatives around the world that carves out a space for citizens to help shape, prioritize or monitor government policies and services.[15]

The new online platform has earned a high level of recognition among the Georgian Parliamentarians, especially the deputies of the Budget and Finance Committee.[16]

The organizations such as Transparency International Georgia and the Open Society Georgia Foundation have also stressed the importance and success of this innovative platform. In addition, transparency International Georgia has made special video instructions explaining in detail how citizens can search the information about public finance via the BM.[17]

Most of the Georgia’s media outlets have expressed high appreciation of the BM in terms of easing the process of analyzing the complex information and getting society involved in public financial management. For instance, Radio Liberty has published an article on the BM mentioning it as the innovative project, which can help fight corruption and misconduct in public service with the active participation of citizens in audit process.[18]

“Forbes Georgia” has also emphasized the positive impact of BM and affirmed its uniqueness in terms of letting people have more understanding and making positive changes in public financial management.[19]

The Work Bank has mentioned the Budget Monitor as an important tool in increasing awareness and engagement of the general public in the affairs of the government in its document on the implementation completion and results of “Advancing public participation in the audit process in Georgia” project (December 23, 2016) and evaluated the project itself as highly satisfactory.

The BM, being a new innovative citizen engagement model, enables citizens to take action and generate pressure for improved services and better public financial management. Through engagement in the audit process, citizens can better control government performance and increase their influence on public policies and programs ensuring a more positive impact on their social and economic lives. It is expected that citizen participation will promote efficient, productive and economic disposal of budget resources and eliminate corruption.

For now, the SAOG has received requests, which are sent to five different sectoral audit departments for further processing. Implementation of the recommendations stemmed from citizens’ requests can make an impact on improvement of PFM.

Providing information on public finance that is more user-friendly and timely to citizens’ needs enhances media watchdog capabilities. The platform also supports Parliament’s capacity to review and make informed decisions on policies and legislation, better oversee government’s activities and ensure higher efficiency in the use of public resources.

Increased awareness on public finance and active citizen participation will lead to more activities, better decisions and better policies that can facilitate both improvement of the SAOG and government in their performance.

Lessons Learned

The SAOG has learnt many useful lessons from its stakeholder-engagement experience so far. A key lesson is that country context matters. As  mentioned earlier, despite the OGP and other efforts, citizen engagement is a new type of policy for public organizations in Georgia. That is why this requires the SAOG’s double efforts to (1) make citizen participation for public and civic sector attractive, and (2) provide evidence indicating successful collaborations with citizens and civil society groups to improve public accountability.

The issue of civil society involvement in audit planning is rather controversial, as it immediately brings up a discussion on a risk of compromising the independence of the SAO and creating an opportunity to influence SAOG’s agenda by various political forces. However, the SAOG considers that citizens are foremost stakeholders, who hold the right to hold the government and the whole public sector accountable to them. Furthermore, citizens are sometimes least aware of audit results and the benefits that they can create for the public administration. Such cooperation (also termed as “participatory”, “joint” or “articulated” audits) allows drawing on social knowledge in the audit process and to reach down to final beneficiaries of public programs.

Selection of audit focus needs to be objective and systematic. Finding a balance between preserving objectivity and consistency, on one side, and incorporating civil society suggestions for potential audits, on the other, is a challenging task..

One of the main lessons learned from the whole process is that clear objectives are significant for the successful continuation of the project. Now that the SAOG has finalized the first step towards the engagement it is of high importance that both,   the SAOG and its major stakeholders stay on the same page and follow mutually accepted working agenda. This cannot be done without:

– Incorporating multi-stakeholder working group into the entire citizen engagement process;

– Sharing an engagement strategy to stakeholders and reflecting their suggestions and needs in it;

The experience has shown that in the beginning, citizen engagement goals were quite broad and objectives – standardized, based on international best practice. Currently, when the first phase is over and SAOG has analyzed opportunities and challenges and interacted with stakeholders, context-tailored objectives, clear procedures and institutionalized approach is a must for the success of initiative.

Principles of Public Participation in Fiscal Policy

  1. Accessibility: BM delivers complex information about the public finances, audit findings and corresponding recommendations in easily understandable manner with different data visualization tools such as diagrams, info-graphics and tables. The platform is publicly available on the web-site, thus every citizen has an open access. BM makes timely information available in easily accessible, machine-readable formats like downloadable databases.
  2. Openness: BM provides full information and encourages public engagement in audit process. BM ensures the breadth and depth of public scrutiny, so that no issue is left out of citizens’ notice. Namely, BM gives visitors opportunity to examine over hundreds of SAOG audit reports annually, expenditures of 62 spending entities, 76 municipal budgets and over 400 state programs.
  3. Inclusiveness: BM aims to be inclusive of all groups of society by equally giving opportunity to every citizen to easily access information and participate in the audit process. Data visualization and easy-to-understand way of platform gives opportunity to citizens despite their background, knowledge and experience in the public finances, to operate and get information they are interested in.
  4. Respect for self-expression: BM is a two-way communication platform that allows individuals to express their concerns, complaints, show their needs, interest, share suggestions and proposals. It empowers citizens, academics, parliamentarians, journalists and every interested parties to watch over, analyze, voice their viewpoints and contribute to effective public financial management in the country.
  5. Timeliness: Citizens can engage into audit planning process and/or send complaints about any phase of PFM at any time and can be sure that they will get feedback in a timely manner, no more than 10 days after their request, which is regulated by the operational manual. Additionally, PFM-related information presented on the “Budget Monitor” is being updated on monthly bases.
  6. Depth: BM provides almost all kind of analytic information based on official data related to the public finances, such as state and municipal revenues, expenditures, public debt, capital projects, state procurements, program budgeting, reserve funds, audit findings and corresponding recommendations. It informs citizens about key policy objectives and systemic deficiencies in the public financial management system and supports public engagement. The platform also provides timely and specific feedback on public inputs and tries to incorporate social knowledge in the annual audit plan.
  7. Proportionality – Citizens can access BM website from any type of computers, tablets and smartphones and can download any content for later usage in discussions and reviews. Those, who do not have access to the internet can send their concerns or suggestions via post service and get updates by calling on SAOG’s hot line.
  8. Sustainability: Fostering citizens’ engagement is a long-term and ongoing process. It has taken on an institutionalized format and is an integral part of the implementation plan of OGP. Advancing public participation in the audit process is integrated as one of the high priorities in the SAOG’s Strategic Development Plan for 2018-2022. SAOG has also developed a Citizen Engagement Strategy and Operational Plan, which ensures the continuous improvement and sustainability of the project. SAOG’s participation on the platform to increase citizen awareness and engagement have become a part of everyday agenda. The consulting working group for citizen engagement is also sustained. The SAOG has also created an operational manual (Rules and procedures) about BM. Besides, the SAOG constantly tries to search for funding opportunities for the platform in order to ensure its continuous development and delivery of comprehensive, timely, detailed and high quality information.
  9. Complementarity: Citizens’ inputs complement and add value to the SAOG audits. SAOG ensures mechanisms for public participation and supports effectiveness of existing governance and accountability systems. When appropriate, it will also offer recommendations of potential actions that would allow the mechanism to engage more of the principles.

Reciprocity: SAOG empowers NGOs, CSOs and other part of civil society to take part in audit process and make a real impact on PFM. Besides, they are involved in the working group, which was created with the initiative of General Auditor of SAOG to work on strengthening civil society participation in the process of monitoring PFM. On the other hand, CSOs can contribute to the audit process via improving the knowledge on topics related to the management of public funds, recognizing easier potential cases of corruption and tracking government agency responses to instances of financial misconduct and corruption identified in SAOG reports. Civil society can play a complementary role by facilitating public dissemination of audit reports to ensure outreach to a broader audience, and by monitoring of government compliance with the audit recommendations.

Country Context

Type of government

Georgia is a representative democratic semi-presidential republic, with the President as the head of state, and Prime Minister as the head of the executive government. Legislative authority is vested in the Parliament of Georgia. It is unicameral and has 150 members, known as deputies, of whom 75 are elected by plurality to represent single-member districts, and 75 are chosen to represent parties by proportional representation.

Civic space (size of civil society, regulatory framework)

Legislative procedures regulating the registration of CSOs in Georgia are simple and non-governmental and civil society organizations have the ability and freedom to operate. The study – “Mapping Civil Society Organizations’ engagement in policy dialogue in Georgia”[20] revealed that CSOs are satisfied regarding the state of affairs of civil liberties, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, which implies that there are vast opportunities for establishing and running CSOs in Georgia.

The political and institutional framework in Georgia is in general supportive of an enhanced role for CSOs in public policy dialogue. Though, current studies also indicate that Georgia still lacks a sufficient institutional framework to ensure inclusive access and full engagement in public policy dialogue for different interest groups. CSOs ability to reach their full potential in contributing to policy dialogue has been challenged by capacity constraints. Capacity development – improving knowledge and human resource skills – were named as one of the factors that would enable CSOs better engage in policy dialogue. While CSOs in Georgia generally enjoy an open environment, more work is to be done to ensure meaningful civil society engagement in public decision-making and in the Public Financial Management in particular.

Open Budget Survey scores

OBS Georgia 2015[21]

  • Transparency (Open Budget Index): 66/100. The Government of Georgia provides the public with substantial budget information.
  • Public Participation: 46/100. The Government of Georgia provides the public with limited opportunities to engage in the budget process.
  • Budget oversight by legislature: 73/100. Budget oversight by the legislature in Georgia is adequate.
  • By Auditor: 100/100. Budget oversight by the supreme audit institution in Georgia is adequate

Score on TI Corruption Perceptions Index (2016):

Georgia 2016[22]

Score: 57/100

Rank: 44/176