It was some two years ago that the government, through the Ministry of Finance, developed a Budget Transparency Action Plan (BTAP) which was intended to aid in the process of public accountability.
But even that has not been enough to help the coalition administration develop an effective system where public funds can be properly accounted for and insulated from various forms of abuse.
This point was recently made by Chartered Accountant and former Auditor General, Anand Goolsarran.
He noted that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) should impress upon the administration, the importance of having all actions contained in the BTAP undertaken with alacrity, especially as they relate to the accountability timeframe.
Until this is achieved, coupled with appropriate sanctions for violations, Goolsarran said “we would be unable to assure ourselves that a strong and effective system of public accountability is in place to safeguard public funds and other resources of the State.”
BUDGET TRANSPARENCY PLAN
According to Finance Minister, Winston Jordan, the Budget Transparency Action Plan is one that seeks to strengthen more than 10 areas of national accountability. These include public procurement, consultations on the budget and training of budget staff.
High up on the action plan is to ensure that there are consultations with key stakeholders on proposals to be included in the National Budget.
Jordan said these stakeholders would include the political Opposition, the Private Sector Commission (PSC), Trades Union Congress, and relevant civil society organizations.
The Finance Minister had said that this is being done to promote a participatory approach in budget preparation; to secure ownership of the outcome from key stakeholders; and to ensure greater transparency in the crafting of the National Budget.
He had recalled that prior to 2015 there was little or no consultation with the political Opposition. He said that this resulted in three consecutive years of stalemate, “budget cuts”, unauthorized expenditure, and judicial intervention.
In preparation of the 2015 Budget and others that followed, Jordan said that attempts were made to consult with the political Opposition, while with respect to the private sector and other stakeholders, there were detailed consultations.
The Minister nevertheless indicated a desire for ongoing dialogue in the future instead of a once-a-year consultation.
With the action plan serving as a guide, Jordan said that he and his team will strive to release the outcome of budget consultations to the public via press briefings and related press statements and on the Ministry of Finance’s website, prior to the presentation of budgets to the National Assembly.
Furthermore, the action plan also seeks to incorporate a strengthened programme budgeting framework in the National Budget. Jordan explained that this will provide for greater accountability for outputs, outcomes and impacts.
He noted that despite the efforts made to embed programme budgeting as evidenced by the compilation of Volumes One and Two of the Estimates to the National Assembly, statements of impact and indicators of achievement are not specific and quantifiable to facilitate ex-post evaluation.
Jordan had said that he is confident that the action plan in this regard will strengthen the programme of the budgeting system and utilize performance reports within an enhanced Monitoring and Evaluation environment, including measurable indicators that are quantifiable and specific.
The Finance Minister said that effective from fiscal year 2018, with respect to all Ministries, Departments and Regions, the National Budget will provide specific details regarding the quantification of outputs, outcome, impacts and indicators of achievement.
The Budget Transparency Action Plan also takes into account, the need to provide specialized training for key staff of budget agencies. The Finance Minister said that this will enable staff to become more proficient in preparing programme budgets.
He noted that over the years, limited training has been provided to budget agency staff on programme budgeting. As such, he asserted that trained staff will facilitate the preparation of programme budgets and budget agency performance reports.
The Finance Minister also stated that the action plan will serve to ensure that the budget is approved before start of the fiscal year, and information on it will be disseminated as widely as possible via the media and on Government websites.
A comprehensive procurement plan by budget agencies in support of the National Budget is also addressed by the action plan.
Jordan said that this initiative was incorporated into the programme to ensure that each budget agency plans its procurement activities well in advance and executes them in accordance with an approved plan.
With approximately 70 percent of the National Budget devoted to public procurement, the Finance Minister emphasized that there is need for a more effective system of procurement management.
With procurement plans in place, Jordan said that suppliers of goods and services, and the execution of works will be in a better position to plan the offer of their services to the Government. In this way, the economist insists that better quality of goods/services and works will be offered.
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