Parliament wants more teeth in national budget

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Parliament wants more teeth in national budget
Parliament wants more teeth in national budget

Africa-Press – Namibia. In its quest for greater autonomy and involvement in the national budget rather than being reduced to rubberstamping, the National Assembly went on a benchmarking exercise to determine the best modalities to implement at home.

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 operation of the budget committee.

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

In May, the committee also visited neighbouring 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 a mandate to take charge of preparing and considering the budget of Parliament moving forward.

The committee is also entrusted with taking responsibility for the best outcome of the forecasts.

Although the NA has the legislative oversight role of approving the national budget, its role in the budget process is eclipsed by its limited or no participation in setting fiscal policy targets, authority to change executive budgets, and time and capacity to review executive budget proposals.

This situation, the committee concedes, has adversely affected the allocation of budgetary resources to Parliament to run its own operations.

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

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

“Zambia divided its committees into three themes, namely policymaking, finance and economy, and sectors, for purposes of enhancing its role of budget, oversight, and representation. The assembly takes into account the gender representation, experience, and qualifications of individual members in committee membership. The Public Finance Management Act provides guiding principles to parliament in its oversight role. The parliamentary budget office (PBO) contributes to the strive for parliamentary autonomy, is part of the organisational structure of the National Assembly of Zambia, and reports to the office of the clerk,” the committee found.

It was also found that through the budget office and the expertise of staff, Parliament is accorded an extra audience to distinguish its autonomy, with a pertinent focus on their core business of oversight.

“The establishment of a PBO enhanced Parliament’s capacity and enabled Parliament to scrutinise budgets for improved oversight, enhanced systems, fiscal risk assessment, and increased 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 Public Finance Management Act of that country created an enabling environment for transparency and effective oversight of the budget.

More so, 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 mirror the positions of each individual member of the cabinet, which contributes to good governance and accountability.

Uganda “has a fully-fledged parliamentary commission, commissioners, and staff. Active participation of civil society organisations in the budget process contributes to parliament’s oversight capabilities.”

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

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

“Parliament does not motivate its own budget but rather submits it to the President for information, who intends to submit it to the minister of finance without amendment for inclusion in the appropriation bill (the provisions are the same for the Judiciary) in order to create checks and balances in governance,” the committee found.

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

Also, the finance committee deals with bills and inquiries relating to finance and the economy.

Additionally, the parliament of Zimbabwe prides itself on having a committee on budget, finance, and investment promotion established in terms of the standing rules and orders.

Further, a parliamentary budget office is part of the permanent structures of the national assembly secretariat with the right skills and competencies.

Active participation of both development partners in the budget input process contributes positively to Parliament’s oversight roles.

“The budget committee, assisted by the budget office, considers the budgets of the entire country. Development partner funding is not sustainable. It can only be used to kick-start processes; thereafter, a country should find ways in the fiscal for sustainability,” states the committee.

Recommendations

Following extensive consultation with the relevant stakeholders in the three countries, it became evident to the local MPs that the activation of a parliamentary service commission is a very critical undertaking for the efficient and effective operations of the Namibian Parliament.

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

To address this, “the Public Financial Management Bill urgently needs to be finalised to provide stricter measures for ensuring transparency and accountability in all sectors. Currently, none of the parliamentary standing committees deals efficiently with matters relating to budget and finances, apart from the Committee on Economics and Public Administration, which has a broad scope to monitor, inquire into, and make recommendations to the assembly on matters that may directly or indirectly affect the economy of the country.”

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

“The benchmarking visit has placed the overall appraisal of the financial autonomy of Parliament nuanced and thus more difficult to ascertain. The budget of each of the visited assemblies is, in effect, part of the general budget of the state. In this context, it is effectively voted for by Parliament but is still influenced and even controlled by the government. As in the words of Ebenezer Djietror, Deputy Clerk of the Parliament of Ghana, ‘Autonomy rests in the energies and boldness of parliamentarians’.”

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

“More participation of Parliament in the public finance management processes places Parliament in a better position to play its three basic roles of representation, lawmaking, and oversight.”

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