Budget monitoring and participation is wanting

Wednesday March 7 2018

Budget at the Ministry of Finance

Budget. Mr Kenneth Mugambe, the director of Budget at the Ministry of Finance in his submission said the government already is trying and that is why the country emerged second in Africa. FILE PHOTO 

By Ismail Musa Ladu

The Executive is under minimal public pressure to provide budget accountability because majority of Ugandans prefer to play along or simply spectate rather than hold their government accountable, a new report reveals.
According to the latest Open Budget Survey (OBS) 2017, Members of Parliament have not helped matters either.

The survey produced after every two years, shows that the legislators have not done anything tangible in as far fulfilling one of their core mandate, budget monitoring and oversight.
As if to worsen the already wanting situation, the country also didn’t fare any better in budget transparency.
Therefore, like most African countries, Uganda performed poorly in all three areas assessed budget transparency, participation, and oversight

Key findings for Uganda
Uganda’s score of 60 per cent in the new OBS survey is slightly below the 62 per cent scored in 2015.
The country’s overall score is above the global average of 42 per cent, making it the best in the East African region and second in the continent, behind South Africa, which scored 89 per cent.
Importantly perhaps, according to the ranking, the score of 60 per cent falls under the category of countries that provide limited budget information.
The survey which was presented at the Ministry of Finance head office by Uganda Debt Network Programme Manager, policy analysis and governance, Ms Imelda Namagga, indicated that Parliament whose major mandate includes oversight, did a poor job in that regard.

In execution of its oversight and auditing role, it only scored 27 per cent although it appeared active in the budget formulation and approval where it scored 71 per cent.
As regard the opportunity for public participation, Uganda scored 28 per cent, implying that it is among the countries that provide few opportunities for the public to engage in the budget process.
Further, the executive, the legislature and the audit institutions have all been singled out in the OBS survey as providing few opportunities for public participation.

Open Budget Survey
The Open Budget Survey (OBS) is one of the world’s independent, comparative, and regular assessments of the three pillars of public budget accountability: transparency, oversight and public participation. It is conducted every two years.
It uses documented evidence and objective criteria to evaluate the extent to which national or central governments make available to the public the eight key budget documents set by international standards for budget transparency.

To be considered “publicly available”, documents must be available online and in a timeframe consistent with good practices.
Also, the survey assesses whether the information provided in the documents is comprehensive and useful.
It also examines the role that the legislatures, and independent fiscal institutions play in the budget process and the extent to which they are able to provide actual oversight of the budget.

It further assesses the degree to which the executive, the legislature and the supreme audit institution provide opportunities for the public to engage throughout the budget process
“The survey assesses what occurs in practice, rather than what is required by law,” Ms Namagga said in an interview last week.

Not all is gloom and doom
Worth noting is that the survey discloses that the legislature and the audit institution such as the Office of the Auditor General provide adequate oversight of the budget.
For the case of Parliament, it is more active during planning stage where it provides acceptable oversight of the budget cycle (71 per cent).

The biggest problem, however, is that when it comes to providing oversight during the implementation stage of the budget cycle, that is when the August House does a poor job as evidenced by the 27 per cent score it was awarded in the survey conducted in 115 countries.

Budget transparency
To improve in the budget transparency the Citizen’s Budget should be published online in a timely manner, something the ministry of finance didn’t do last time round.
Publishing the pre-budget statement online at least one month before the Executive’s budget proposal is presented to the legislature is important. And so is increasing the information provided in the executive’s Budget proposal by providing more data on the financial position of the government and more data on macro- economic forecasts.

This should be in addition to increasing the information provided in the year –end report by providing comparisons between planned non-financial outcomes and actual outcomes as well as comparisons between borrowing estimates and actual outcomes.

Recommendations
According to Ms Namagga, Uganda should prioritise engagements between members of the public and the executive branch officials where the two exchange views on national budget matters, right during the formulation of the national budget rather than at the tail end of the cycle.

“These mechanisms could build on innovations, such as participatory budgeting and social audits. This should be in addition to holding legislative hearings on the audit report, during which any members of the public or civil society organizations can testify,” Ms Namagga said.

She continued: “government should also establish formal mechanisms for the public to assist the supreme audit institution by participating in relevant audit investigations.”
As for improving oversight, it emerged that the country needs to ensure legislative committees examine the Executive’s budget proposal and publish reports on their analyses online. A country should ensure the supreme audit institution has adequate funding to perform its duties, as determined by an independent body (for example the legislature or judiciary).

Global picture
The average OBI score of the 115 countries surveyed in 2017 is 42 out of 100, suggesting that the global state of transparency is limited.
Three in four countries (89) fail to provide sufficient information to the public on their national budgets. For the 35 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa surveyed the best score they managed to garner is 25 per cent.

And 34 out of 35 countries provide insufficient information; 80 per cent provide scanty or minimal information. Of those documents that are not publicly available, more than half are produced by government. For Sub-Saharan Africa, where Uganda is one of the countries, nearly 60 per cent are not published.

Analysts weigh in
The executive director of the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG), Mr Julius Mukunda, said although he has taken note of the slight improvement in citizen participation in matters budget, more work needs to be done in mobilising the critical mass that will then demand budget accountability.

He also commended the government for being ranked the second in the continent for budget transparency, but stressed that it should have done better, given that the marks it scored, although better than for its peers in the region, couldn’t get it out of the category that provided limited budget information.

Ms Safia Nalule Jjuuko, the Persons With Disability woman Member of Parliament, said the fact that Parliament scored that poorly is an indictment on the legislators, saying they need to raise their game. She said oversight is something that shouldn’t be compromise for it’s among the very core of their work.

Government commits
Mr Kenneth Mugambe, the director of Budget at the Ministry of Finance in his submission said the government already is trying and that is why the country emerged second in Africa. He promised to have all the necessary publications regarding the budget made available to the public including publishing it online as expected.
The State minister in charge of Planning, Mr David Bahati while speaking at the launch of the report, said budget planning and processes have been evolving over the years, explaining some of the lapses that could have occurred in the process. He said there is more involvement now than ever before, promising that more will be done so that Uganda is ranked the best in Africa in the next round of the survey.
Way forward
Already, moves by several players, including civil society organization such as UDN are ongoing in facilitating the process of improving budget transparency by 2019.
This is being done in the spirit of helping to improve the budget transparency score to over 70 per cent in 2019 round of survey.

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