Save the Children is working to ensure every last child has the opportunity to survive and learn. One of the ways we will achieve this is by calling for fair finance.

Fair finance goes beyond the figures that governments publish in their national budgets. I reached this conclusion as I listened to members of the Mwanza District Nutrition Coordinating Committee taking turns to describe how late they receive their monthly funds from Central government and how the figure continues to decline month in, month out. Fair financing is about how timely money from that budget is disbursed to district councils and how adequate it is to implement planned activities.

While most advocacy effort in Malawi and elsewhere is put into making sure that government allocates more funding to social services such as health and education, such effort will be in vain if communities don't do their part in ensuring that their local governments are funded to deliver social services and improve social wellbeing including child survival and development.

National purse holders such as the Minister of Finance can increase budgetary allocations to essential services, but if the end user of the services does not engage their local governments to ensure that such services are provided, budgetary increases will remain a reality only on paper.

Fair financing is about government providing enough resources in the national budget to essential services such as health and education, making sure that such resources are disbursed timely and adequately to district councils. It also requires that district councils spend those resources as planned and report back to both communities and central government in an accountable and transparent manner about how the resources were used.

Communities in district councils have an important role of making sure that their councils plan properly and spend accordingly—the very concept of social accountability. Communities should claim a role in the district investment planning process, telling their councils what they expect of them and ensuring that district executive teams fulfil their mandates.   

Any campaign therefore that addresses financial barriers to exclusion, must address the social accountability question. This can be achieved by building robust sub-national civil society movements that own the sub-national development agenda and drive it forward consistently.

Sub-national civil society movements should apply pressure to sub-national administrative units to ensure that they develop plans that take care of excluded children, resource those plans adequately, and implement them appropriately.

Coupled with a national civil society agenda that pushes for more government allocations in social sectors, such sub-national social accountability mechanisms have better chances of success in ensuring that not only are social services provided but they reach all groups including excluded children.

As Duncan Green[1]suggests, change will only happen where active citizenship comes into contact with a responsive state. Social accountability is the cornerstone to build both the active citizenship and the responsive state and move communities on a trajectory to sustainable development.

[1] Duncan Green (2008), From Poverty to Power: How Active Citizens and Effective States Can Change the World, Paperback