What is the relevance of Open Budget Survey (OBS)?
We are a national policy advocacy organisation and our aim is to generate advocacy that influences people-based and accountable public resource management in the country. That said, OBS is a global measure of public sector budgets. It is an independent global measure that shows the extent of availability of national budgets, with a focus on budget transparency, public participation and budget oversight.
Given its relevance, the Ministry of Finance is in support of it. That is why together with International Budget Partnership (IBP), we have in the last seven years been carrying out the OBS exercise, done every two years to assess the changes over the stated period in respect to the three pillars.
The OBS methodology mainly focuses on consistency of the practice (rather than legal provision) of government in making budget information available at the right time frame in platforms such as online among other spaces. This exercise (OBS) closely assesses the pre-budget statement, executive’s budget proposal, enacted budget, citizens budget, in-year reports, mid-year review and year-end report. This is in addition to audit reports . The methodology also verifies the extent to which the data provided in these documents is comprehensive.
Note that all responses are evidence-based. For instance, we look at citations from budget documents, the country’s laws; interviews with government officials, legislators, plus in-country budget experts and Ministry of Finance peer reviewers. Any pass-mark is at least 60 per cent on any pillar.
Before we delve into Uganda and its ranking, what does the global picture look like?
Global Average Transparency Score was 45 out of 100, implying “public availability” of Budget information remains limited. The top six countries include: New Zealand which tops with 87; South Africa (87); Mexico (82); Brazil (81) are among the top six countries providing extensive information to the public for scrutiny.
Global citizens’ participation was at 14 out of 100 implying that citizens’ participation in the budget process remained dismal.
Where is Uganda in the grand scheme of things?
We (Uganda) ranked 36th among 117 countries assessed; with a score of 58 per cent, losing two points compared to 2017 survey. Uganda increased availability of budget information by publishing citizens budget online. Uganda’s overall score is above the Global average of 45 per cent, the best in the Eastern Africa region and 2nd in Africa after South Africa- at 87 per cent.
Though having the highest transparency score of 58 per cent in the region in 2019, it is a drop since 2015. Disturbingly , the survey shows that Uganda provides few opportunities for the public to engage in the budget process with a score of 22 per cent.
What are your thoughts about the performance of East African countries in comparison to the other African nations?
At the continental level, South Africa at 87 per cent was the best in Africa, Uganda at 58 per cent came second in Africa and best in East Africa. After Uganda was Kenya at 50 per cent, Madagascar at 40 per cent, Rwanda at 49 per cent, South Sudan at 17 per cent, Burundi at 6 per cent, Somalia at 3 per cent and Comoros scored zero out of 100.
I believe there is room for improvement. Even the second place Uganda occupies is not exactly exciting, considering the average score of 58 per cent! We should be aiming at much higher scores. I would like to see us score 100 per cent and that should be the aim. Although the current ranking in Africa is promising in some quarters, I think it is an indication that we can do much better.
What is your take on Uganda’s ranking of the specific key pillars of the budget?
Under the pillar of budget transparency, Uganda scored was 58 out of 100 in 2019; away from 65 in 2012, 60 score in 2017. Under the level of public participation pillar, Uganda scored 22 out of 100, meaning that while there are spaces for citizens to participate in the budget process, the results of the consultation are not reflected in the final budget priorities for the country. So, we have been regressing instead of progressing.
Where does this leave budget oversight institutions?
Indications suggest that the legislature and supreme audit institution (SAI) in the country are providing limited oversight of the budget. Parliament, it seems, only provides adequate oversight during the planning stage of the budget cycle. The report also shows that when it comes to oversight during the implementation stage, parliament’s role is weak.
Final thoughts, especially on the way forward?
We would like to see a more comprehensive audit report and mid-year review. This should include involvement of intended project beneficiaries in project design, for greater ownership and impact. Our Parliament should allow any member of the public to testify during its hearings on the audit report. We have information that can enrich the budget and improve the budget score for the country, if taken on board.
We also believe the Office of the Auditor General should establish formal mechanisms for the public to contribute to relevant audit investigations.
We would also like to see the supreme audit institution having adequate funding to perform its duties, as determined by an independent body such as the legislature or judiciary.
Examining in-year budget implementation/ performance and publishing findings online is of utmost importance. Results of supreme audit institution should be implemented and publicised.