Protests ‘show justice has a fiscal dimension’

3 Jul 20

Black Lives Matter protests show there is a fiscal element to social justice, and should force governments to think about how to involve marginalised people in budget-setting, a transparency campaigner has told PFF.

Vivek Ramkumar, director at the International Budget Partnership, pointed to huge pre-pandemic protests in France, Lebanon, Ecuador and Chile, which showed a global trend of mass demonstrations even before the killing of George Floyd in the US.

“In some ways, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought people’s attention back to a reality that never really went away, but Covid had moved the discussion away from,” he said.

“A lot of these protests are on core public finance issues – how governments are raising and spending money. We see that in the US, with calls to defund the police [and put money into
other community services].”

Ramkumar said public finance could “significantly” address many issues of justice and equality, but that the “old way” of having budget decisions made exclusively by politicians in a closed room was outdated.

He said in many cases people take to the streets because they feel it is “their only recourse to getting their voices heard”.

“Public opinion might be divided on some issues, such as defunding the police, but that’s what some people are asking for and they don’t have other avenues [through] which they can formally give their opinion to government,” he added.

There is a “real need” to establish mechanisms for those who have not yet been included in budget-setting to become involved, said Ramkumar, whose organisation IBP works to promote “open, inclusive budget processes”.

“Governments need to change the way they function so there is a better way for them to find out about the public’s demands than through mass demonstrations,” he said, adding that for this to happen the public needs to have access to good information about budgets, as well as an input into setting them.

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