Grab a seat and hold on, this is going to be an exciting ride. With international human rights standards as our roadmap, our destination is the future of Mozambique where all children’s rights are fulfilled. The journey will be long and bumpy, with unexpected diversions a certainty. The trip will also be expensive and staying the course may require tough choices along the way.
An ever present factor along our social policy journey is the debate over identifying fiscal space in the budget for social and economic development. But what is fiscal space? It depends who you ask, i.e. it means different things to different people in the development, financial and aid communities. Experts have defined it as space to spend a government’s budget without jeopardizing the stability of the economy. The same experts debate how certain resources in the budget can be labeled or calculated. And yes, yet another group of experts, including the UN, define it in relation to how government’s mobilize resources to combat poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
I like to keep things simple. Aren’t we putting fancy labels on the money in the national budget? And whether we can afford to allocate to one area over another? Isn’t it about making difficult choices? And avoiding short -term gains by sacrificing now for long-term wins? How many times have you heard that investing more in social programmes, like health care and better schools, is a fine idea, but countries like Mozambique just don’t have the fiscal space for scaling them up? I’m quite tired of hearing excuses that result in chronic delays in addressing child stunting or children being able to read. Is it acceptable that more than half of all Mozambicans are trying to survive on less than US 50 cents per day?
In some parts of the world, fifty cents is spare pocket change. So how do social policy wonks keep it real? Do we even know what poverty looks like anymore? Who are the faces behind the (numerous) economic analyses of poverty stagnation in Mozambique?
Lina, pictured here, and her classmate are an example. UNICEF’s 2010 Child Poverty Study sought to highlight real stories of Mozambique’s children to the forefront through children’s voices and their personal struggles. Lina, aged 14, told us – ”We never have enough food to eat. We normally have black tea and bread for breakfast. Whether or not we have a second meal depends on whether our mothers and grandmothers have made money that day or have money left over from their salary. Often, we haven’t eaten anything for one or sometimes even two days. We often cry, not just because we are hungry, but because we feel all alone when we don’t have food to eat, like no one cares about us.”
No child should go to bed hungry. But how do we take the most basic right to survival and weave it through the complex maze of social policy analysis? Poverty is the usual scapegoat. Lina told us so herself that her mother does not have money for food. How her mother and grandmother reached the point where meeting daily needs is a constant worry is our backdrop as many of us struggle to make an impact on key indicators of social development.
So how do we get a fair share of the money in Mozambique to kids like Lina? We can start to unpack the national budget, ask questions about where fiscal space hides and how money is actually distributed. We can read the national budget like a policy document and glean the actual government priorities away from the rhetoric of the donor-led poverty reduction strategies. Will you join me in taking a hard look at the issues around the fiscal space within Mozambique’s national budget to understand more of where the real decisions are being taken and how they are impacting the future of this wonderful country, its children? Will you share your stories of how you keep it real? And how you make the link between the bookshelves full of fancy reports and the reality just outside our offices?
Let’s work together. It could get uncomfortable, but it is necessary. We owe it to Lina and the millions like her.
I have to run, this is my stop. See you soon.