How to make each taxpayer dollar count more for children

For anybody reading this who is a Jamaican taxpayer, your concern might be how those funds are spent and how they can achieve better outcomes for our children? In that case you might be happy to hear about something called Results-Based Budgeting (RBB), where ministries allocate resources on outcomes envisaged in the Government of Jamaica’s Vision 2030 Sector Plan, itself guided by the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The two-year, US$1.2-million ‘‘Improving Efficiency, Effectiveness and Equity in Public Expenditure in Jamaica for SDG Acceleration’ project – funded by the Joint SDG Fund, between the Government of Jamaica, the United Nations (UN), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The project has been supporting the GOJ’s implementation of RBB not only to improve planning but also coordination between key government departments and agencies.

The programme has so far supported a review of the GOJ’s Medium Term RBB Framework and trained 174 staff from the ministries of Finance, Education and Health. We caught up with two of the 70 staff members who obtained distinctions, Viviene Johnson and Howard Lynch, Senior Directors of Planning and Monitoring at the Ministries of Education and Youth, and Health and Wellness, respectively. While it is not Viviene pointing to the board at the front of the classroom or Howard holding the scalpel at the operating table, both are keenly aware that their planning decisions help those who do.

Howard Lynch, Director of Planning and Monitoring at the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
UNICEF/2022/SheilHoward Lynch, Director of Planning and Monitoring at the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

Training for champion healthcare

Howard: At the MOHW we take a whole life cycle approach and achieving the SDGs is a benefit to the Jamaican people. For instance, if we address child infant mortality, then more children survive – and so our planning must put in place the right interventions to do so. So, the SDGs might sound aspirational in some ways, but they have real life impact.

If you compare us with the training that an athlete like Usain Bolt must do to become a champion, we are in a race to improve and save lives. For Bolt it was a matter of being coached with the right training to achieve certain times and finishes; and similarly, the MOHW must execute the right strategies to achieve certain health outcomes. Unfortunately, health is relatively intangible in that you might not notice it until you lose it – regardless we must focus on the finish line in terms of improving outcomes.

Helping children move up through the grades

Viviene: For us in education, RBB is critical for accountability. As planners if someone needs to understand how we arrived at an outcome we can reference the strategic plan and indicators which measure performance. Measurement and evaluation is part of our planning process. At each level you want children to move seamlessly through the system. We can plan according to and report upon those milestones in their development.

It’s pleasing when you see things you have planned become operationalized such as with the current return to face-to-face school. In this case the Ministry provided an operational guide for schools, including steps to ensure COVID-19 protocols are met, such as establishing an isolation room and the necessary checks and resources. From our monitoring and detailed assessment planning tools we can see the plans coming to life in terms of its implementation.

Viviene Johnson, Director of Planning and Monitoring at the Ministry of Education and Youth.
UNICEF/2022/SheilViviene Johnson, Director of Planning and Monitoring at the Ministry of Education and Youth.

Raising performance for the future

Howard: MOHW is wanting to become more performance-based and the knowledge gained from the training, such as modelling a theory of change, will help us to do that and strengthen our measurement and evaluation too.

Viviene: For viability of a country, a community, a home, the individual himself or herself must focus on preparing the youth, get their voice, it’s important, as we cannot be planning in a vacuum. Children and youth are the future! Therefore, the Ministry is committed in ensuring that there is greater alignment with planning and budgeting for effective outcomes.

UN and EU optimistic of improved budgeting

Dr. Garry Conille, United Nations Resident Coordinator: The UN is proud to be supporting the people and Government of Jamaica to improve efficiency, effectiveness and equity in public expenditure and in so doing accelerating the achievement of the SDGs. We are grateful for the financial contribution of the Joint SDG Fund whose donors include: The European Union and the Governments of Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Monaco, Kingdom of Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland.

Ambassador Marianne Van Steen, EU Delegation to Jamaica which donated to the process: Democracies such as Jamaica pride themselves on informing their citizens about how and on what the government is spending tax revenues. Over the years, the EU has been providing support to the government of Jamaica to implement Public Finance Management reforms. The aim is to improve public governance, transparency, accountability, delivery of public service and ultimately trust in government institutions. The most recent example is the PFM budget support and related technical assistance, which contributed to the government’s efforts to build the institutional structures and systems for a modern Integrated Financial Management System in Jamaica. Once the system is operational, it will be able to collect and organise financial and performance information in a central database to support central government budget preparation, execution and reporting, ultimately leading to better decision-making on resource allocation and public policies implementation.

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