The Open Budget Survey released by the The International Budget Partnership last week rated Namibia 55 out of 100 for fiscal transparency, moving up two points since last year’s rating at 53.
The survey serves as a major global assessment of government budget systems and practices that raise serious questions about the prospects for individual countries to overcome poverty and promote economic development and for international efforts like the Millennium Development Goals.
Namibia, which makes part of 77 countries assessed worldwide, still needs to put mechanisms in place to improve access of information to the general public such as the introduction of a pre-budget statement, the survey suggests.
According to the director of Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), Graham Hopwood, Namibia is, indeed, on the right path.
“Namibia is going in the right direction on the Open Budget Index and should be commended for introducing a Citizens Budget. Namibia could make further strides in budget transparency if it introduces other key elements like a pre-budget statement and a mid year review,” Hopwood said.
Hopwood advised that the former must ideally be submitted four weeks before the tabling of the national budget in order to allow members of the public to contribute in the drafting of the budget.
“This process will give members of parliament and the public an idea of what is contained in the budget and give them a sense of constraints and challenges which affect the drawing up of the budget,” Hopwood said adding that a transparent government attracts investments.
“We can just look at Greece and other countries that obscured (sic) some information, they fail to attract investors.”
The report further calls for a mid-year report which will ideally improve the monitoring and evaluation process of the budget and would offer updated projections of expenditure and revenues for the full fiscal year.
The survey which comprised of 125 multiple choice questions, pointed out that fiscal transparency requires a strenghtened role of legislation.
However, member of parliament, Sophia Swartz, argued that the budget process hinders the timely implementation of capital projects since the money is only available during September or October of the year.
This, she said, is ultimately the reason why ministries underspend.
“The time-frame for the budget cycle is not enough. Why does it take so long before money is available for capital projects? If this is changed then there will be no underspending,” Swartz said adding that the availability of skilled labour on such short notice plays a major role in the implementation of projects.
However, according to former parliamentarian, Johan De Waal, the current Financial Act is but a toothless dog.
De Waal, instead, called for stiffer measures to address late submissions by ministries.
“The problem with the finance act is that it only says this is wrong; this should not be done but there is no penalty clause. If ministries are late, the auditor general must report this to Parliament for steps to be taken,” he argued.
Professor Bill Lindeke, Democracy and Governance senior research associate, said in order to address the shortcomings in the budget process, one needs to consider archaeology of the budget process.
“When independence came, we needed a budget. There was time for a long process. It is important, especially for Africa. Nobody paid attention to the budget for the past 40 years.”