By Alpha Bedoh Kamara
Budget Advocacy Network, a non- governmental organization in Sierra Leone, launched the 2015 Open Budget Survey for Sierra Leone at an event held at the SLAJ Secretariat on Wednesday September 9, 2015.
The budget is a government’s plan for how it is going to use the public’s resources to meet the public’s needs. But people should be informed on how much is allocated to different types of spending, what revenues are collected, and how international donor assistance and other public resources are used.
The Executive Committee member, Mohamed Sillah, said lack of transparency can always reduce the credibility of policy choices and that the Open Budget Initiative is only galvanizing efforts to make the governments to be more transparent.
He said though there is an improvement in the budget processes in Sierra Leone there is need for more improvement in accessing detailed information about the budget processes to the public.
“People are not consulted when it comes to budget planning processing and we are urging for more open participation in the entire process,” he said, adding that all it takes is the political will for the work to be done.
The report states that Sierra Leone’s score of 52 out of 100 is moderately higher than the global average score of 45. It however indicates that the Government of Sierra Leone provides the public with limited budget information, 52 out of 100; that the Government of Sierra Leone is weak in providing the public with opportunities to engage in the budget process; Budget oversight by the legislature in Sierra Leone is weak and Budget oversight by the supreme audit institution in Sierra Leone is adequate.
“We want to see that what government is budgeting for is in line with the priorities of the need of the people they are budgeting for,” Sillah reiterated.
The coordinator of Budget Advocacy Network, Abu Bakarr Kamara, said the Open Budget Initiative (Initiative) is a global research and advocacy program to promote public access to budget information and the adoption of accountable budget systems.
“The Open Budget Survey is an independent, comparative, regular measure of budget transparency and accountability around the world, produced by independent civil society budget experts not affiliated with any national government. The Survey uses documented evidence and objective criteria to evaluate the extent to which national or central governments in 102 countries provide the public with timely and comprehensive access to eight key budget documents required by international good practices,” he said.
He said the Survey uses documented evidence and objective criteria to evaluate the extent to which national or central governments in 102 countries provide the public with timely and comprehensive access to eight key budget documents required by international good practices, examines ability of legislatures and supreme audit institutions to provide effective oversight of government budgets and the opportunities for the public to participate in the budget process.
“The Survey is not an opinion poll or a measure of perceptions – it is based on a rigorous, objective methodology subject to independent review,” he said.
He said the IBP believes that open budgets are empowering; they allow people to be the judge of whether or not their government officials are good stewards of public funds.
The organization recommends for Improving Transparency by the Sierra Leone government and
prioritize the following actions to improve budget transparency: Publish the Pre-Budget Statement and the Year-End Report; Publish the budget cycle timetable; Increase the comprehensiveness of the Executive’s Budget Proposal by presenting more information on the classification of revenues for the budget year and data on debt and interest for the budget year.
Sierra Leone should prioritize the following actions to improve budget participation:
Provide detailed feedback on how public perspectives have been captured and taken into account.
Hold legislative hearings on the budgets of specific ministries, departments, and agencies at which testimony from the public is heard.
Establish formal mechanisms for the public to assist the supreme audit institu¬tion to formulate its audit program and participate in audit investigations.
Sierra Leone should prioritize the following actions to strengthen budget oversight:
Establish a specialized budget research office for the legislature.
In both law and practice, ensure the legislature is consulted prior to the virement of funds in the Enacted Budget, the spending of any unanticipated revenue, and the spending of contingency funds that were not identified in the Enacted Budget.
Ensure the supreme audit institution has adequate funding to perform its duties, as determined by an independent body (e.g., the legislature or judiciary).
Ensure the supreme audit institution collaborates with civil society on performance audits.