Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ghana makes Strides in Budget Process

Ghana ranks high in the West African sub-region in the Open Budget Survey 2008 as one of the few countries which provided some level of information on government's budget and financial activities during the course of the budget year.
   But analysts say more was needed to be done by the governments' in the sub-region because the information they provided was not adequate enough to enable citizens to hold them accountable for the management of the public money.
   "This is the time for the government to show more openness and make the budgetary process a participatory one for Ghanaians to set their development priorities," Mr Nicholas Adamtey, Coordinator Centre for Budget Advocacy,
ISODEC who presented the report told the Ghana News Agency.
  Ghana scored 49 percent followed by Nigeria with 19 per cent, according to the 2008 Open Budget Index for the West African Sub-region Region launched in Abuja on Tuesday.
   Other countries, which participated in the survey, are Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Senegal and Liberia.
   An initiative of the International Budget Partnership and Civil Society Groups, the Open Budget Survey 2008, from which is derived the index, is a comprehensive analysis and survey that evaluates whether central governments give the public access to budget information and opportunities to participate in the budget process.
  It also examines the ability of legislatures and auditors to hold their governments accountable.
   The 2008 survey measured government budget transparency across 85 countries, including seven in the West African sub-region.
  Mr Adamtey said Ghana and other countries in the sub-region needed to do more to bring on board citizens' participation in the budget process.
   He said besides improving access to key budget documents, opportunities for citizen participation in budget debates could be increased through Parliament holding hearings on the budget in which the public can participate.
  There is also the need to strengthen the Auditor General Department and remove it from the interference of the executive in its work to fulfil his mandate.
  In the case of Ghana, the report noted that while the executive Budget Proposal provided substantial information that allowed the citizens to have a fair idea of government's revenue plans and expenditure for the coming year,
it was however not made available on time for public debate and inputs.
   The report suggested that the budget proposal should be available to the public and to the legislature prior to being finalized, at least three months before the start of the budget year to allow for sufficient review and public debate.
  The report also dwelt on the difficulty in tracking spending, revenue collection and borrowing during the year.
  It held that, although Ghana publishes fairly detailed in-year reports,
there is, however, no publish mid-year review, which it said could help strengthen public accountability through the provision of a more
comprehensive update on how the budget is being implemented during the year.
    It is also difficult to assess budget performance in Ghana once the budget year is over due to the absence of a year-end report, preventing comparisons between what was budgeted and what was actually spent and collected at the end of the year.
     In addition, Ghana does not make its audit report public and does not provide any information on whether the audit report's recommendations are successfully implemented.
     Dr. Bright Okugu, Director General Budget Office of the Federation, lauded the initiative to keep governments accountable and said the missing link had been the inability of the public to monitor how the funds approved were being used in implementing the projects.
  Senator Iyiola Omisore, Chairman of Senate Appropriation Committee, said there was the recognition of inclusive budgeting to promote transparency and openness in the process.
    In general, the OBI 2008 showed that 68 of the 85 countries surveyed, 80 percent did not provide the public with the comprehensive, timely, and useful information people needed to understand, participate in, and monitor the use
of public funds.
     Almost 50 percent of the 85 countries studied provided minimal or no information. Thirty-two percent provided some information with only five countries providing extensive information. 
    It said restricting access to information hindered the ability of the
public, journalists, commentators, academicians, and civil society
organizations to hold officials accountable and created opportunities for governments to hide unpopular, wasteful, and corrupt spending.
    Lack of information also hindered the ability of other government bodies, such as legislatures and national audit offices, to do their jobs effectively. 
    Additionally, legislators in many countries received budget information
too late to allow them to adequately review it or to hold the public hearings necessary to foster debate and careful scrutiny. 
   The Survey found that in 24 of the 85 countries, the legislature received the budget six weeks or less before the budget year begins.
  The OBI 2008 found that governments in 17 countries including Angola,Uganda, Ghana, and India, were producing Citizens Budgets, although they varied in how much information they provided.
    "While this is an improvement from the 10 countries in 2006, the overwhelming majority of the countries (80 percent) do not produce any document of this sort."

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