BIDPA advocates Citizens' Budget

Staff Writer
The Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) has advised Government to start producing and publishing a Citizens' Budget so that Batswana may be better informed about how public funds in the national coffers are raised and spent.

Unlike other countries in the region, among them South Africa, Namibia and Malawi, Botswana does not produce a Citizens' Budget, which is a non-technical presentation of the national budget published for the public to better understand government plans and make it accountable for its policies.

Speaking at the launch of the Open Budget Index (OBI) 2010 for Botswana in Phakalane yesterday, research fellow with BIDPA, Dr Gape Kaboyakgosi, said it was high time the government started producing the Citizens' Budget in the interests of transparency and accountability in public finance and budget making processes.

"Most ordinary people, apart from the public servants' salary adjustments, do not expect anything else from the budget," Kaboyakgosi said. "This is not due to lack of interest but because they do not understand what is being said.

"Unlike the actual Executive Statement, which is a voluminous document containing heaps of numbers, the Citizens' Budget is basically a very simplified summary, which is usually about five pages only."

The OBI evaluates quantity and quality of information available to the public in national budget documents. According to a survey conducted among 94 countries using a standardised questionnaire, Botswana has been slipping down the ranks of OBI due to its lack of adequate information dissemination to the public and better performances by other countries.

The 2010 OBI, which is conducted once every two years by the International Budget Partnership, saw Botswana slip down from 65 percent in 2006, 62 percent in 2008 and 51 percent this year. Although Botswana's score is among the highest in the region, it trails South Africa's 92 percent, suggesting that the southern African neighbours are far ahead in terms of openness in the budget process.

"Botswana's score shows that Government provides the public

with only some information on the central government budget and financial activities during the course of the budget year," Kaboyakgosi continued.

"This makes it challenging for the citizens to hold the government accountable for its management of public money. This is why our South African neighbours might be better placed and empowered in holding their government accountable for public funds."

Although Botswana produces most of the key budget documents, some of them, such as the Pre-budget Statement, the Mid-Year Review and the In-Year Report, are not made available to the public, resulting in the country's fall in rankings.

The call for reforms in the budget making and implementation process comes just a day before Government holds an inaugural Budget Pitso, which is meant to boost transparency and accountability in public finance activities, among other things.

"We hope the minister will be able to tell us that from now on, these documents will be readily available to the public," said Kaboyakgosi. "We will expect him to say that they will be availing the Pre-budget Statement and show us priority areas so people may comment before the actual budget is done." Another factor BIDPA attributes to the fall in rankings is earlier accurate rankings in past surveys, which saw the country scoring undeserved points.

For the 2010 survey, Botswana comes third in the region in terms of Budget Openness. It is behind South Africa's 92 percent but ahead of Namibia's 53 percent.

Besides advocating for a Citizens' Budget, BIDPA also recommends for the government to provide opportunities for the public to testify at legislative hearings on the budget and enable Parliament to provide more comprehensive oversight, not only when the budget is being approved but also during the implementation period.

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