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Basic enough budgets: what should you do when you can’t do everything?

Research report

Written by Sierd Hadley, Bryn Welham

Research report

In order to manage revenue and expenditure, a state must have a budget of some kind. While there are numerous frameworks for what constitutes an ideal budget, relatively little consideration has been given to what might constitute a 'basic enough' budget for low-income and low-capacity states.

This paper considers a number of leading frameworks, and reviews evidence from both historical and more recent examples that explain how budgets have operated in environments with limited capacity. 

This paper concludes that a 'basic enough' budget process requires a focus on systems for basic fiscal management (clear input controls, functioning treasury systems that can execute and manage payments, accounting and reporting systems that capture overall expenditure patterns) and straightforward high-level allocation decisions. Other elements of budget best practice – for example strong internal and external audit, a focus on improving operational delivery and investments in the strategic phase of the budget – are less important. However, even such a 'basic enough' budget might be challenging to deliver in many low-income and lowcapacity states. 

Bryn Welham and Sierd Hadley