Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Economist urges easy access to public finance

up on budget formulation, its departments have been scolded for holding back economic data that could be helpful to researchers and other institutions like the IMF.

This week, the industry praised Kenneth Matambo’s initiative to establish a web page where members of the public can contribute to budget discussions.

However, the Managing Director of Econsult, Dr Keith Jefferis, said until now, monitoring the implementation of the budget has been made very difficult by a lack of public finance data.

“Despite this improvement in transparency, we still have far (way) to go with data availability and quality,” said the former Bank of Botswana deputy governor.

“I believe that the ministry is genuinely committed to improving the quality of information that it disseminates regarding its own operations, under the Public Finance Management Reform Programme,” he said.

The move to establish the website will be similar to a very successful initiative undertaken in South Africa, when Trevor Manuel was Minister of Finance, where before the budget the public was invited to contribute “Tips for Trevor”.

Jefferis suggested that the SA equivalent will be “Comments for Ken”. Ken is the nickname to Matambo, who is Botswana’s minister of Finance and Development Planning.

The economist revealed a shocking scenario whereby the most recent data on actual revenue and expenditure that are currently available to the public are for March 2010; ten months old.

He said this falls well short of accepted international standards, which requires such data to be published within three months.

This is despite the fact that the government has made repeated commitments to organisations such as the IMF to publish timely government finance data.

His fear is that the problems with public finance data could be a symptom of a bigger problem regarding data in Botswana.

“Proper monitoring of economic developments, analysis of policy options and assessment of investment possibilities ÔÇô and hence reaching appropriate decisions ÔÇô rests fundamentally on the availability of appropriate, high quality, up-to-date data,” he argued.

His argument is that too often these are simply not available from institutions in Botswana, at least not in a form that is readily accessible to the public, adding that information that should be readily available is not, and getting hold of it becomes a mission based on favours.

However, he praised some government departments, like Registrar of Companies, BURS and the CSO, that have been helpful and that made special efforts to make information available on request.

“Unfortunately, I have encountered the opposite in response to information requests to some other entities, notably Debswana and Botswana Power Corporation, which seem to have a culture based on a lack of transparency, despite the fact that they are owned in whole or in part by the citizens of this country,” he said.

Jefferis is of the view that government needs to realise that skimping on resources for the provision of statistics is a false economy.

He said he has grave doubts about the reliability of some of the economic data published by the Central Statistics Office, and hoped the transformation into Statistics Botswana is accompanied by the provision of the necessary resources to facilitate the provision of timely, accurate and reliable data.

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