Public hearing for transparent budget demanded
Bangladesh scores 42pc in open budget index
by Khawaza Main Uddin
contributed for elbag.org by: Rezaul Kairm Chowdhury, convenor- Equity and Justice Group, Bangladesh
As the preparation of national budget lacks direct involvement of people and active participation of lawmakers, a mid-year public hearing by the relevant parliamentary panel can impel the budget makers to reflect on people’s aspirations in the annual financial statement. The demand for parliamentary hearing designed to improve transparency and accountability in public resource management came from a national dialogue held on Sunday on ‘To What Extent is Our National Budget is Open’.
It also raised the demand for bringing transparency in the national defence budget by detailing actual expenditures instead of describing the defence expenditures only in the budget speech and by holding threadbare discussions at the parliamentary standing committee level. The country scored 42 per cent in a global open budget index 2008 compared to more than 80 per cent score by the UK, South Africa, France, New Zealand and the US.
Bangladesh’s performance is marginal than global average of 39 per cent in the index and only above the position of undemocratic or corruption-ridden countries. This is because of lack of pre-budget statement by the finance minister, simplified version of citizens’ budget, mid-year review, year-end report and publication of audit report in the entire process of budget preparation and implementation. Former finance adviser Akbar Ali Khan, now chairman of Regulatory Reforms Commission, spearheaded the demand for brining slight changes in the format of budget making and introducing the practice of making recommendations on budgetary issues by the parliamentary standing committee on the finance ministry. ‘Such hearing will ensure participation of Members of Parliament and the standing committee can also take views of civil society and experts,’ he told the discussion, organised by research organisation Shamunnoy at a city hotel. Although their recommendations might not have binding obligations for the finance minister, the former finance secretary added, the practice would exert a moral pressure on the finance ministry to pay heed to public concerns and maintain transparency. ‘I don’t understand why defence budget cannot be discussed in public when the country’s enemies are well aware of the budget size. At least the parliamentary standing committee on defence ministry should have the scope to discussion in details the defence budget,’ Khan observed.
Arastu Khan, an additional secretary of the finance division, said the defence budget was mentioned in a single line in view of sensitivity of the issue.He also expressed the conviction that the responsibility of preparing the format of the national budget should be kept under the jurisdiction of the finance ministry and that the standing committee should not be given such responsibility because of its lack of capacity in terms of manpower to deal with the matter. ‘Who am I or are you to give them authority to make recommendations? It is already there although the committee’s suggestions may not have binding obligations on the finance ministry,’ Akbar Khan said. Dwelling on Arastu Khan’s point that the fiscal responsibility act would improve transparency, Akbar Khan said the legal obligation to make quarterly statement on the state of economy in parliament by the finance ministry might not be possible if the parliament was not in session at that time. He also pointed out that it could not guarantee that lawmakers would be able to make the best budget if they were given more responsibility. ‘So, what is needed is the participation of diverse groups of people to improve representation and make the budget people-oriented.’Humayun Kabir Hiru, a former Member of Parliament, recommended that there should be a parallel body in the form of economic council to discuss the issues of national budget round the year.
The convenor of Equity and Justice Working Group, Rezaul Kairm Chowdhury, said the local government institutions had been made paralyzed deliberately to make it easier for global lenders and multinational companies to negotiate only with a few people on matters of economic policy. ‘Almost 20 per cent budgetary money is being spent for debt servicing while a section of people is engaged in plundering national resources,’ he added. ‘Bangladesh’s score on the Open Budget Index suggests that public access to information has to be improved,’ said M Abu Yusuf of Shamunnoy, explaining that Bangladesh met only three criteria out of eight in the global index.
also see: http://www.newagebd.com/2009/sep/14/busi.html