Posted by Richard Allen
The Overseas Development Institute’s annual CAPE Conference (the eighth in the series) on Budgeting in the Real World took place in London from November 13–14, 2013. The Conference attracted an impressive group of 110 national and international public servants, consultants and academics who work on budget institutions. For many practitioners, CAPE is the definitive PFM event of the year. The keynote speech, which was featured in a recent blog post, was given by Antoinette Sayeh, Director of the IMF’s Africa Department. Other notable presentations were made by Matt Andrews of the Harvard Kennedy School, and Allen Schick of the Brookings Institution and University of Maryland.
The Conference included sessions on the form and functionality of budget systems, what constitutes a capable ministry of finance, how reform can deliver change in the budget process, and how improved budget systems impact on development outcomes. Much of this is familiar ground and there was a sense of déjà vu in some of the presentations. One participant asked rhetorically why there were no feedback loops in our profession, why the same messages kept on being repeated from one year to the next, and why PFM practitioners appeared to learn so little and did not change their attitudes or behavior. Nevertheless, while the agenda had a familiar look on the surface, there were encouraging signs that an important if uncomfortable truth about the nature of budget reform is beginning to sink in to the collective mind of the PFM community. Indeed, the Conference may prove to be a watershed in the development of thinking on PFM reform, though much work remains to be done to flesh out the details of the new approach—an emerging “New PFM Consensus”—and put it into practice.