How do Parliaments Approve Budget Laws and Oversee Budget Processes?

Posted by Ian Lienert 

The role of parliaments varies quite substantially across countries. The U.S. Congress, for example, has more power and control over the Executive branch than that of most parliamentary regimes. However, when one looks at Latin America or Africa, it is clear that not all presidential regimes’ parliaments have such strong powers. In general, Parliament’s powers are constrained by constitutional design or practices. In France, for example, the 1958 Constitution deliberately weakened parliamentary powers relative to “fourth republic”.

Such diversity is particularly visible in public financial management. Parliaments organize themselves differently across countries to approve the annual budget law, any supplementary budgets, and oversee budget execution. In 2008 the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) published a book that provides a wealth of material on how parliamentary committees and chambers work in 88 different countries. Although the focus of the book is wider than budget processes, it nonetheless provides useful information on the different ways that parliaments examine ex ante budgets and ex post reports on budget execution.

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 examines parliamentary committees: how they are organized, how they examine governmental information and reports, government and citizen participation in parliamentary committees, and parliamentary inquiries and missions. Part 2 examines the main parliamentary chambers, providing cross-country information on issues such the executive responses to parliament and practices in parliament for questions, debates and votes of confidence. Part 3 is devoted to two specialized oversight institutions that serve parliaments, notably ombudspersons and supreme audit institutions. 

For those interested in budget processes, the sub-section on budgetary oversight discusses different arrangements on committees that examine budgets. The IPU book reports that many parliaments have a parliamentary committee that is called on to scrutinize the implementation of the budget across government departments. In most cases, this is a permanent committee, for which there are two main types. The first is the Budget or Finance Committee, whose main government counterparts are in the Finance Ministry. Such a committee authorizes the budget bill and scrutinizes reports on its implementation. The second is a Public Accounts Committee, which is not involved in the deliberations on the draft budget. Public accounts committees usually limit their activities to examining reports from the country’s supreme audit institution (SAIs), frequently headed by an auditor-general. In some countries, departmentally-related committees may receive a report from the SAI. Examples are Austria and Germany, a permanent subcommittee of the Budget Committee has been established to examine the State’s accounts.

To illustrate diverse country practice, the book has many figures including, for example, one on the extent to which parliaments receive reports from the SAI (the text describes whether or not these reports are received through the government). There are also many boxes, including for: the Public Accounts Committee of the Ugandan Parliament and of the British House of Commons; Request for audit by the Japanese House of Councilors; Assistance of the Audit Tribunal to the Joint Committee on Projects, Budget and Taxation in Brazil; and Financial delegation in Switzerland.

Published in three languages (English, French and Spanish) an electronic version of the book is available on

In the publication’s foreword, Anders B. Johnsson, Secretary General of IPU, expresses the hope that this study will be useful to parliaments, parliamentary scholars and practitioners, as well as other proponents of democracy, in their efforts to make parliamentary institutions stronger. We also trust that the book provides useful background reading for those interested in cross-country differences in the role of parliaments in budget processes.