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Parliament wants more strength in the national budget

In its quest for greater autonomy and participation in the national budget rather than being limited to simple approval, the National Assembly undertook a benchmarking exercise to determine the best modalities to implement in the country.

Last year, the Parliamentary Select Committee on Budget visited the parliaments of Zambia, Uganda and Ghana to assess and compare notes on the scope and functioning of the budget committee.

The committee was made up of Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) leader Mike Kavekotora, National Unity Democratic Organization (Nudo) legislator Joseph Kauandenge, Swapo legislator and deputy minister of urban and rural development, Evelyn Nawases-Taeyele, MP Elifas Dingara, as well as People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) treasurer-general and shadow finance minister Nico Smit.

In May, the committee also visited neighboring Zimbabwe for the same, according to reports tabled in the National Assembly (NA) last week.

The Parliamentary Select Committee on Budget was established by a resolution of the National Assembly in 2022, with the mandate to prepare and consider Parliament’s budget in the future.

The committee also has the responsibility of ensuring the best outcome of the forecasts.

Although the AN has the legislative oversight function of approving the national budget, its role in the budget process is overshadowed by its limited or no involvement in setting fiscal policy objectives, its authority to change executive budgets, and the timing and the ability to review executive budget proposals.

This situation, the committee acknowledges, has negatively affected the allocation of budgetary resources to Parliament to carry out its own operations.

Accordingly, it embarked on a search for a model that would support Parliament in strengthening its core mandate of legislation, representation and budget oversight capacity.

During the committee’s visit to Zambia, it was discovered that resource allocation criteria are based on equity and the constitutional functions or obligations of an institution and its activities.

“Zambia divided its committees into three themes, namely policy formulation, finance and economics, and sectors, in order to enhance its budget, oversight and representation role. The assembly takes into account the gender representation, experience and qualifications of individual members in the composition of the committee. The Public Finance Management Law provides guiding principles to parliament in its oversight role. The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) contributes to the fight for parliamentary autonomy, is part of the organizational structure of the National Assembly of Zambia and reports to the office of the secretary,” the committee concluded.

It was also found that through the budget office and staff expertise, Parliament is granted an additional audience to distinguish its autonomy, with a relevant focus on its core oversight activity.

“The establishment of an OBP improved the capacity of Parliament and allowed it to review budgets to improve oversight, improve systems, assess fiscal risk and increase delivery services to the people they represent,” the committee says in its report.

In Uganda, the Budget Act created the Budget Committee as a Standing Committee of Parliament and the Parliamentary Budget Office as a department.

Meanwhile, the country’s Public Finance Management Law created an enabling environment for transparency and effective budget oversight.

Furthermore, the president appoints ministers to form the cabinet, while the leader of the opposition forms and appoints an alternative shadow cabinet or shadow ministers whose members reflect the positions of each individual cabinet member, contributing to the good governance and accountability.

Uganda “has a full parliamentary commission, commissioners and staff. The active participation of civil society organizations in the budget process contributes to the oversight capabilities of parliament.”

Meanwhile, Ghana has a special budget committee that examines the budgets of constitutional bodies, which are supposed to operate independently of the executive.

These include the electoral commission, the national civic education commission, the human rights and administrative justice commission.

“Parliament does not motivate its own budget, but presents it for information to the President, who intends to present it to the Minister of Finance without amendment for inclusion in the appropriations bill (the provisions are the same for the Judiciary ) in order to create checks and balances in governance,” the committee concluded.

In Ghana, the finance committee reviews agreements on international loans, monitors the Bank of Ghana’s foreign exchange receipts and payments or transfers within and outside the country, and reports on these to parliament once every six months.

Additionally, the finance committee deals with bills and queries related to finance and the economy.

Furthermore, the Zimbabwe Parliament is proud to have a budget, finance and investment promotion committee established in terms of standing orders and rules.

Furthermore, a parliamentary budget office is part of the permanent structures of the secretariat of the national assembly and has the appropriate skills and competencies.

The active participation of both development partners in the budget input process contributes positively to Parliament’s oversight functions.

“The budget committee, assisted by the budget office, considers budgets from around the country. Funding from development partners is not sustainable. It can only be used to start processes; Thereafter, a country must find ways to achieve fiscal sustainability,” the committee states.

recommendations

Following extensive consultation with relevant stakeholders in all three countries, it became evident to local parliamentarians that the activation of a parliamentary services commission is a very critical task for the efficient and effective operations of the Parliament of Namibia.

“There is a serious skills gap in the Namibian Parliament and an urgent need to establish a parliamentary budget office with the relevant capabilities of not only accountants but also economists who can provide technical support to Members of Parliament in their budgeting role. and enhance legislative capacity for fiscal oversight and scrutiny,” the committee said.

To address this, “there is an urgent need to finalize the Public Finance Management Bill to provide stronger measures to ensure transparency and accountability in all sectors. Currently, none of the parliamentary standing committees deal efficiently with matters related to the budget and finance, apart from the Committee on Economy and Public Administration, which has a wide scope to monitor, investigate and make recommendations to the assembly on matters that may affect directly or indirectly affect the country’s economy.”

It was also recommended that the Budget Select Committee be reconstituted into a standing committee.

“The benchmarking visit has colored the overall assessment of Parliament’s financial autonomy and is therefore more difficult to determine. The budget of each of the assemblies visited forms, in effect, part of the general budget of the State. In this context, Parliament effectively votes in favor of it, but is still influenced and even controlled by the government. As Ebenezer Djietror, ​​deputy secretary of the Parliament of Ghana, says, ‘autonomy lies in the energy and boldness of parliamentarians.’”

The MPs said: “It is time for the Executive to realize that Parliament is relevant at every stage of the budget process. The need for greater involvement of Parliament in the budget process cannot be overemphasized, as the budget is the most important tool through which economic and social policy can be influenced.”

“Greater involvement of Parliament in public financial management processes puts Parliament in a better position to perform its three core functions of representation, law-making and oversight.”

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