To give a brutally honest answer to the headline question, not all are because finance is a highly complex subject. One indication that some MPs are not up to the task before them is that when they should be analyzing technical aspects of the national development plan, they choose to talk about the lack of infrastructural developments in their respective constituencies.
For the second time this year, the Umbrella for Democratic Change has proposed that in order to close this knowledge gap, parliament should have its own budget office.
“Botswana’s parliamentary remains one of the few without a proper economics/budget office and therefore cannot carry out its own economic/sector impact studies or make their own economic projections,” said Gaborone Bonnington South MP, Ndaba Gaolathe, when contributing to the debate on the NDP 11.
In practical terms, Gaolathe’s words mean that even as they debate an economic plan that the government will follow for the next seven years, MPs don’t have the information they desperately need in order to make meaningful contributions. When Botswana has been basking in the glory of being Africa shining example of democracy, some African countries were actually democratizing their systems in one very important way. Parliaments of countries like South Africa, Kenya and Uganda have budget offices which have been established to produce independent analysis of budgetary and economic issues to support the parliamentary budget process. This analysis both informs MPs and provides citizens with an independent perspective on complex and contested public finance and economic issues.
South Africa established its Parliamentary Budget Office in 2009 and the office has advised MPs on the country’s proposed procurement of R1 trillion nuclear energy. According to research findings from the African Parliamentary Index parliaments with independent budget offices are more effective with regard to budget oversight.
In his contribution to the budget-speech debate earlier this year, the Leader of the Opposition, Duma Boko, proposed an outlay of P10 million to establish a parliamentary budget office.
“I need not rehearse the advantages to parliament and the population of this approach. It would have been possible to provide the public with a neutral assessment on whether the economy or economic distribution of income would fare better under our government-in-waiting proposals or under the current way of doing things,” he said.
A strict non-partisan entity, this kind of office was started in the United States Congress in 1975. Each year its economists and budget analysts conducts objective, impartial analysis and produce dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates for proposed legislation. The office was established upon realization of the fact that the Congress lacked institutional capacity to establish and enforce budgetary priorities as well as to coordinate actions on spending and revenue legislation.
Gaolathe has also proposed that MPs should be availed of staff with capacity to meaningfully support them with the drafting of private member bills.