African Parliamentarians Discuss Ways to Promote Good Governance in the Management of Public Finance
The training center known as the Joint Africa Institute (JAI), created by the World Bank, the IMF and the African Development Bank (ADB), organized a five-day seminar in Tunis on the “Role of Parliamentarians in Promoting Good Public Financial Management (PFM) and Accountability.”
The seminar regrouped 26 legislators and officials from 8 English-speaking African countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda). The team of presenters included Messrs Mitchell O’Brien (World Bank), Lubin Doe (IMF), Per Eldar Sovik (ADB), Augustine Ruzindana (African Parliamentarians Network Against Corruption), Adams Fusheni (Canada Parliamentary Center) and Niall Johnston (parliamentary consultant).
The main topics covered were the budget process, the scrutiny of government expenditure, the relationship between PFM and corruption and parliamentary oversight on extractive industries in Africa. The program also included a small-group workshop to discuss cases of abuse of public power in selected countries.
In the course of the presentation on the budget process, participants learnt about the Ugandan Parliamentary Budget Office, a legislative technical office, patterned after the US Congressional Budget Office that prepares non-partisan analytical economic reports, including on annual budgets. This type of legislative support is unique in Africa, so much so that several countries have approached Uganda for advice on establishing a similar office.
On budget scrutiny, the role of the external auditor was discussed extensively and the need to provide this auditor with good working conditions was stressed.
Concerning PFM and corruption, the presentation I made focused on the risk of corruption at the different stages of the budget process and ways to reduce it, including by reforming the PFM system (see attachment: Download pfm_and_corruption.DOC). The risk is generally small at the budget preparation and adoption stages and greater during budget execution. Participants stressed the need for greater assistance from multilateral institutions (like the IMF) in helping dispossessed countries regain control over stolen money and illegitimately acquired real assets in foreign countries.
Africa reportedly has the world largest deposits of minerals. However, these resources have often been considered as a curse (slow growth, widespread corruption, increased poverty, more civil and/or armed conflicts) rather than a blessing. During the discussions, some participants took issue with adhering to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). They decried the pressure exerted by the ambassadors of industrial countries on them to adopt laws that disregard the interest or their people.
Parliamentarians made several recommendations aimed at promoting accountability, notably the creation of:
- An economic analysis capacity in parliament tasked, inter alia, with the assessment of draft budgets and the preparation of non-partisan policy recommendations on all economic issues;
- An independent Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) empowered to audit all state accounts except those of parliament. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of parliament is to hold an annual public meeting with the SAI to assess the adequacy of the release by government of resources to this office to enable it to do its work; and
- Capacity to oversee all extractive industries.
The seminar also proposed that all parliamentarian oversight committees hold their meetings in public, except on procedural and national security matters and be empowered by law to have access to all information, including state bank accounts. The PAC is to be chaired by a member of the opposition party to minimize the influence of the ruling party on its deliberations. Parliament should take the lead in fighting corruption to set the example for the executive branch. In this regard, it should urge the government to implement PFM reforms.
For a complete list of recommendations, click here: Download Recommendations.doc
Participants considered the seminar to have been useful and expressed the wish to participate in similar meetings to enable them to have a greater impact in their countries.