We Pass the Budget Test

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Financial Info Is Open to Public By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Namibia has performed fairly well on an Open Budget Index 2006 (OBI) that measures government’s provision of information on the central budget and its financial activities to its citizens. Out of a possible score of 100, Namibia scored 51, which indicates that the government provides citizens with some information, although this leaves room for improvement, according to a study. The Open Budget Index Initiative is the brainchild of the International Budget Project (IBP), which evaluates the quantity of information provided to citizens in seven key budget documents that all governments make public during the course of the year, namely, the Pre-Budget Statement, Executive’s Budget Proposal, Citizen’s Budget, In-year Reports, Mid-Year Review, Year-End Report and Auditor’s Report. It is produced to assist civil society, journalists, researchers, international and national policy-makers, and economic development specialists in identifying and advocating for increased access to information and the adoption of accountable budgetary practices. During the budget year, the study indicates, the Executive Budget proposal is one of the most important documents released, indicating that Namibia’s proposal provides substantial information to the public. On this, Namibia scored 68 percent out of 100 of the information needed to present the public with a comprehensive picture of the government’s financial activities, it said. The key budget documents publicly available, according to the study, are the Executive Budget Proposal, In-Year Reports, Mid-Year Review, Year-End Report and Auditor’s Report. It further says the Pre-Budget Statement is produced but only available for internal use, while the Citizen’s Budget is not produced. The research to complete the Open Budget Questionnaire was undertaken by Robin Sherbourne, a Research Associate at the Institute for Public Policy and Research. The study says citizens require access to information and opportunities during the consideration of the budget, to use that information to ensure their informed participation in budget debates. “Namibia’s score on the Open Budget Index suggests that the public’s access to information could be improved,” it said. Sherbourne found that opportunities for citizens’ participation could be increased by, among others, holding public hearings on the budget in which the public can participate. Namibia is among 24 of the 59 countries surveyed that do not hold public hearings on the budget’s macro-economic parameters. The study also found that Namibia provides some information in its year-end reports and has comprehensive mid-year reviews, which greatly strengthen public accountability in the country. Although Namibia makes its audit reports public, it does not provide any information on whether the audit reports’ recommendations are successfully implemented or not. The index, carried out in 59 countries around the world,ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ isÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ the first index to rate countries on how open their budget books are to their citizens. Its intention is toÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ provide citizens, legislators and civil society advocates with the comprehensive and practical information needed to gauge a government’s commitment to budget transparency and accountability. With this kind of information, lenders, development advocates and aid organizations can identify meaningful budget reforms needed in specific countries to combat corruption andÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ strengthen basic services toÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ improve people’s lives. The study said although accurate, timely and comprehensive information during each stage of the budget cycle is required to ensure the accountability of government to its citizens, more than 90 percent of the countries covered do not meet this demand. Six out of the 59 provide extensive budget information in their budget documents. The six include South Africa. On the Executive Budget Proposal, South Africa and Botswana, which scored 83 and 75 percent respectively, beat Namibia, which scored 68 percent, while on the provision of year-end reports and audit reports, Namibia scored 20 and 25 percent respectively. Amongst the concerns raised in the study are that some countries provide minimal, scant or no information to citizens to the public and also that many countries fail to hold hearings on the budget. IPB intends to undertake the study every two years, with the aim to evaluate changes in government performance over time. The next study, which will cover 80 countries, will be published in the last quarter of 2008.