Dr. Phyllis Resnick: 2015 Volunteer Service Award Winner

Dr. Phyllis Resnick received VEGA's Volunteer of the Year Award in 2015 for exemplary volunteer service.
  • Story Snapshot

  • Country: Angola, Jordan and Tunisia
  • VEGA Lead Member: Financial Service Volunteer Corps (FSVC)

ResnickOVERVIEW
Project 1: Consultations to Identify Adequate Software and IT Tools for Automation of Citizen Budget and Mid-Year Review
Project 2: Consultations to Clarify the Components and Presentation of a Citizens Budget and Mid-Year Review Budget
Project 3: Workshop on Best Practices for Budget Transparency
Project 4: Workshop on Transparent Budget Management for Local Government
Project 5: Workshop on Budget Decentralization and Local Finances

Volunteer Assignment and Impact:
As an economist at Colorado State University with more than twenty years of experience in public sector budget and fiscal analysis, Phyllis Resnick has brought her knowledge of public financial management to five separate FSVC projects in three countries. Phyllis’ first two volunteer assignments were to Amman, Jordan, where she trained the Jordan General Budget Department (GBD) to develop a Citizens Budget (CB), a Mid-Year Review (MYR) of the national budget and to consult on selecting budget software. Taking time from her full-time consulting and research schedule at Colorado State University, Phyllis spent several weeks preparing and then delivering presentations in Amman on how to format the CB to provide information about the budget that can be easily understood and utilized by the general public. Phyllis then assisted the GBD to develop a more participatory process for compiling key components of the CB by inviting representatives from the Audit Bureau and local civil society organization (CSO).

Based on the success of Phyllis’ training in Jordan, FSVC contacted Phyllis to assist with several budget workshops in Tunis, Tunisia, in the spring of 2015. The advent of the 2011 Jasmine revolution in Tunisia had brought many changes including a call for greater government accountability and transparency on budgetary matters. At the request of the Tunisian Ministry of Finance (MoF), Phyllis and a second FSVC volunteer expert were asked to 1) deliver a training for the MoF and CSOs on best practices and the requisite policies and procedures required to improve the transparency of government expenditures and 2) lead a workshop on the budget cycle for staff from local government authorities, highlighting organizational and financial reforms the staff could implement to improve the budget process. Phyllis and her fellow volunteer expert spent weeks preparing and developing custom case studies and slides for these trainings. Six weeks prior to the project, a terrorist attack occurred in downtown Tunis. Phyllis and her fellow volunteer expert, however, remained committed to the projects and delivered the trainings. Both projects were extremely well received by the Tunisian government and were instrumental in continuing the process of budget reform in Tunisia.

Beyond Phyllis’ expertise and her commitment to volunteerism, Phyllis’ passion for delivering budget and tax training is exemplary. While still completing her post-project paperwork for Tunisia, Phyllis volunteered to deliver a week-long workshop on budget decentralization in Luanda, Angola. Angola is the seventh largest exporter of crude oil in the world yet very little information is available to Angolan citizens about how public funds are spent, and ranks the country 161 out of 175 in Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perception Index. To address these issues, the Angolan MoF established a public finance training center – Instituto de Formacao de Financas Publicas (INFORFIP) – and requested FSVC’s assistance to train government staff on international best practices in public financial management and budget decentralization. Citing the uniqueness of training an oil-rich government to decentralize government funds, Phyllis prepared a comprehensive week-long workshop for government staff on the steps required to allocate decision-making power to local government authorities while increasing the transparency of government expenditures, revenues and formulating budgets. Phyllis’ training was extremely well received. Her experience volunteering and consulting for
foreign governments allowed her to use examples of decentralization processes from other countries aside from the United States which made her training more relatable to INFORFIP participants. Her willingingness to answer sometimesoff-topic questions during the workshop and her clear explanations were very well received. INFORFIP has already requested Phyllis’ assistance with future projects.

Volunteer Impact

Phyllis’ contribution as a FSVC volunteer expert has been outstanding. Since expressing her interest in volunteering for FSVC in September 2014, Phyllis has served as a volunteer expert for 5 different projects in just over 12 months. She has spent the equivalent of 48 days volunteering or preparing for FSVC projects and has trained 223 beneficiaries from both government and civil society.

Moreover, her impact in each of the countries she has worked in is remarkable. In Jordan, as part of her presentations on CBs and MYRs, Phyllis provided a simulation of the International Budget Partnership’s Open Budget Survey, which measures the transparency of countries’ budgets and can help attract foreign assistance and investment. Her simulation demonstrated how much Jordan’s score would increase if the MYR and CB were published. Following her simulation, the Jordanian MoF agreed to develop a first draft of the MYR before the end of 2014 in order to acclimatize itself with the method of data gathering and analysis for the MYR document.

In Tunisia, her workshops on budget transparency and budget management for local governments provided government staff with the knowledge and confidence to implement necessary changes to the budget process for greater transparency. At the conclusion of her workshops, participants were eager to adopt changes to the budget cycle that would improve transparency a nd help the public better understand budget documentation. Part of these changes included refining the processes and inputs to the Tunisian CB. Since Phyllis’ workshops, FSVC has received requests from the Tunisian MoF to provide follow-on training on this topic. Similar to Jordan, a clear and more detailed CB would not only educate the public but also demonstrate a clear commitment to improving financial management and transparency in Tunisia.

As Phyllis’ most recent volunteer project in Luanda was only recently implemented, much of the project impact has yet to be measured. Phyllis’ involvement in this project, however, has been key not only to initiating a dialogue on budget decentralization but also in assuring the Angolan government of the quality of technical assistance from volunteer experts. Typically, due to the country’s oil wealth, the Angolan government has relied on private sector consultants to provide training and expertise; however, the management of INFORFIP now sees the benefit of volunteer expertise. Following FSVC’s workshop on budget decentralization, the director of INFORFIP, Paulo Ringote, thanked FSVC, saying that it “was a very interesting training session, with direct impact on what are doing on legislation reform to implement the municipal finances in Angola.” and that the institute “looks forward to the next workshop with FSVC.”