Fiscal transparency can improve

Namibia performed extremely poorly on the public participation part of the survey, registering a zero score.

27 May 2020 | Economics

Fiscal transparency is absolutely crucial during times of national emergency as it is more important than ever. – Graham Hopwood, Executive director: IPPR

Phillepus Uusiku - Namibia has improved its transparency score slightly on the 2019 Open Budget Survey (OBS), moving from 50 points out of 100 in 2017 to 51.

Namibia is performing better than the global average, but can still do more to join the ranks of those countries considered to be providing substantial information on both the allocation and spending of public money, says the executive director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), Graham Hopwood.

Out of the 117 countries assessed Namibia came 47th, the same position as two years ago. A score of 61 is considered the minimum threshold to foster an informed public debate on budgets. The global average transparency score in the OBS 2019 was 45, Hopwood says.

Hopwood adds that “Namibia could make further strides in budget transparency by improving the timing of audit reporting and making the accountability report more comprehensive, among other measures”.

Independent

The OBS is the world’s only independent, comparative and fact-based research instrument that uses internationally accepted criteria to assess public access to central government budget information, formal opportunities for the public to participate in the national budget process and the role of budget oversight institutions such as the legislature and auditor in the budget process.

Namibia published 7 of the 8 required public documents within the timeframe set by the survey. Only a comprehensive audit report on government expenditure was published late. This is an improvement on 2017 when several documents were either not issued or published late, Hopwood pointed out.

“In the past Namibia has received plaudits for introducing a citizens guide to the budget and a mid-year review. We are now in a position to do more, particularly in the area of promoting public participation in budget formulation and monitoring,” he says.

“Fiscal transparency is absolutely crucial during times of national emergency as it is more important than ever to ensure government spending is effective and positively assists the people in need,” he says.

The current Covid-19 global pandemic has resulted in many countries imposing emergency spending measures. Namibia has postponed the tabling of its 2020/21 budget and it is expected to take place today, while parliament remains out of action at least until mid-May, Hopwood added.

Namibia was the fourth best performer in Africa behind South Africa, Uganda, and Ghana and the second in the Southern African region behind South Africa in releasing substantial budget information.

Six of the countries surveyed release extensive budget information and scored 81 or higher, which includes New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, Mexico, Georgia and Brazil.

Public participation

Transparency alone is insufficient for improving governance. Inclusive public participation is of crucial importance in realising outcomes associated with greater budget transparency.

Namibia performed extremely poorly on the public participation part of the survey, registering a zero score as there are no formal opportunities for meaningful public participation afforded by the government, parliament or the auditor-general’s office, Hopwood says.

The OBS assesses formal opportunities offered to the public for meaningful participation in the different stages of the budget process as it examines the practices of the central government’s executive, the legislature and the supreme audit institution (SAI), using 18 equally weighted aligned with the global initiative for fiscal transparency’s principles of public participation in fiscal policies, and scores each country on a scale of 0 to 100.

The results of the survey indicated that Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini have the lowest public participation score, recording 0 out of 100.

Zimbabwe topped the chart recording a score of 33 out of 100, followed by South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Angola and Botswana who recorded a score of 24, 20, 15, 11, 9 and 9 respectively.

Recommendations

The OBS recommends that the ministry of finance introduces pilot mechanisms to engage the public during budget formulation and to monitor budget implementation.

The survey further pointed out that the ministry actively engage with vulnerable and underrepresented communities directly or through civil society organisations representing them to ensure that their views and opinions are heard which will ensure that the formulation and implementation of policies are inclusive to promote equality in society.

Moreover, parliament is urged to provide opportunities for members of the public to testify during hearings on the budget proposal prior to its approval as well as during hearings on audit reports.

Finally, Namibia’s Office of the Auditor General is urged to prioritise certain actions to ensure improved public participation in the budget process by establishing formal mechanisms for the public to assist in developing its audit program as well as contribute to relevant audit investigations. To ensure greater transparency the audits should also be reviewed by an independent agency.

Budget oversight

The OBS further examines the role that legislatures and supreme audit institutions (SAIs) play in the budget process and the extent to which they provide oversight.

The survey pointed out that Namibia’s parliament provides weak oversight during the planning and implementation stage of the business cycle recording a score of 31 out of 100.

Therefore, in order to improve the weak budget oversight in parliament, it is of critical importance to prioritise certain actions. The survey suggests that the executive’s budget proposals be submitted to legislators at least two months before the start of the budget year for approval.

It is further suggested that legislative committees examine executive’s budget proposals and publish reports with their analysis online.

All in all, the legislative committee should also examine audit reports, in-year budget implementation and publish reports with their respective findings online.

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