Sunday, September 27, 2020

┬áPublic hearings can shore up Botswana’s budget transparency

Although Botswana has been hailed for its transparency on the production of the budget document, there is room for improvement in order to catapult the world’s largest diamond producer to the top spot in the world rankings.
 
Botswana scored 62% on the latest International Budget Partnership (IBP) Open Budget Index (OBI) placing the country at position 16 out of the 85 countries surveyed.
 
This places the country in the top 12 countries that provide significant information on their budgets.
 
“The public participation could be improved even if they can access the budget at any time they want,” said Professor Jonathan Kaunda, a senior researcher at Botswana Institution of Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA, a government economic think tank.
 
“Botswana could make its budget process more open by increasing opportunities for public participation. We do not have citizen participation system in the budget. For instance, the legislature does not hold hearings on the budget in which testimony from the public is heard,” he observed.
 
Professor Kaunda said Botswana scored 62% and if the public participation is improved, the country could lead the pack. South Africa, on the other hand, which competes with Botswana on many fronts, scored 87%.
 
The Open Budget Survey evaluates public budget transparency and looks at whether central governments give the public access to budget information and opportunities to participate in the budget process.
 
However, Professor Kaunda explained that it was discovered that Botswana government provides substantial information on budget proposal compared to many countries from around the world.
 
“However, it is somewhat difficult to track spending, revenue collection and borrowing during the budget year,” he noted.
 
The report is concerned that even though the government of Botswana publishes a fairly detailed in-year reports, it does not publish a mid-year review saying that ‘publishing this document will facilitate public accountability since it provides updates on how the budget is being implemented’.
 
Professor Kaunda noted that this is one area that South Africa beat Botswana because, in that country, the treasury is open to the media and it publishes mid year budget (review).
 
It was observed that although the Auditor General is autonomous; it is a cause for concern on whether its findings are implemented.
 
He said that the Auditor General is free to audit, including such state agencies like the military and police, an exercise which is not common in Africa.
 
However, Kaunda pointed out that there is room for improvement because there is no formal communication with the public. It is not easy to receive complaints from the public, citizens and civil society, observed Professor Kaunda.
 
“The audit report is given, but we do not know whether the follow up is made. They are (Auditor General) not the ones who follow up on issues like when the public funds are misused,” he said, adding that it is up to the authorities (Executive) to do that.
 
The Open Budget Index (OBI) of the Open Budget Survey 2008 has revealed that 80% of the countries surveyed do not provide the public with comprehensive information on the budget.
 
The survey is composed of 123 questions that cover development-formulation, legislative approval, implementation and audit. 

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.