Actions for Genuine Democratic Alternatives (AGENDA), a Civil Society Organization has released the 2015 Open Budget Survey (OBS) report which shows a decline in Liberia’s performance with respect to budget transparency, citizens’ participation and oversight. According to the report which was launch on Friday, September 18 at a policy dialogue, Liberia’s Open Budget Index (OBI) score which focuses on transparency is 33%, public participation 21% and oversight by the National Legislature and General Auditing Commission, 33%.
These scores indicate that the Government of Liberia does not provide adequate and comprehensive budget information to the public in a timely manner.
Opportunities for public participation in the budget process are limited, especially during the formulation and execution stages. Oversight by the National Legislature and the General Auditing Commission is also very weak.
According to international best practice and standards, the government is required to make publically available eight key budget documents within specified timeframe.
The documents are the Pre-Budget Statement (Budget Framework Paper), draft budget, approved budget, citizen’s budget, in-year reports, mid-year report, year-end report and audit report.
The OBS is the only independent, comparative and regular assessment of budget transparency, participation and oversight conducted by Civil Society experts working on budget issues in 102 countries around the world. The 2015 survey was conducted over a period of eighteen (18) months.
Presenting the findings, AGENDA’s Senior Policy Director, Mrs. Carolyn Myers Zoduah, disclosed that while Liberia has improved the comprehensiveness of the Draft and Approved Budgets as well as the Mid-Year report between 2012 and 2015, the late publication of the Budget Framework Paper, the Citizens’ Guide to the Budget, the Year-End Report and the Audit report of the Consolidated Accounts is mostly responsible for the country’s decline in its 2015 OBI score unlike 2012 when the country scored 45% for budget transparency.
Commenting on citizens’ participation, Mrs. Zoduah emphasized that transparency alone is insufficient and called on government to establish innovative, credible and effective mechanisms such as user survey or social audit to ensure increased public participation.
She pointed out that Liberia has been making steady progress in the last three rounds of the survey and it was quite unfortunate for the country to decline during the fourth round.
On oversight by the National Legislature and General Auditing Commission, the report revealed that the Executive did not consult the Legislature prior to the disbursement of funds in the approved budget.
The Legislature was also not consulted before the spending of unanticipated revenue and contingency funds that were not identified in the approved budget.
Mrs. Zoduah then called on the government to ensure that in law and practice, the Legislature should be consulted before the above stated actions take place.
The Legislature also needs to ensure that the draft budget be passed at least a month before the fiscal year begins.
Launching the report on behalf of Minister Amara Konneh of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), Acting Deputy Minister of Budget, Minister Augustine Blama, conceded and attributed the decline to some stakeholders’ weak compliance in certain areas.
He also pointed out that the research method cannot be dogmatic about the timeliness of the availability of budget information adding that the publication of the Citizen Guide to the Budget and Budget Framework Paper are contingent on the approval of the draft budget.
He cited some structures that the Public Financial Management law provides relative to the establishment of County and Social development funds with local project implementation committees as examples of providing space for civic participation in the budgetary process.
Minister Blama committed the Ministry to working with AGENDA and other stakeholders to improve Liberia’s score in the next round.
Speaking during the panel discussion which followed the official launch of the report the Coordinator of the Open Budget Initiative at the Ministry of Finance, Mr. Anthony Myers, said there is gap between distribution of budget information and usage.
He noted that one way to increase citizens’ participation is through an arrangement that will allow Ministries and Agencies incorporate citizens in planning and implementation of their respective programs at the level of the sector working group.
He added that the Ministry does not have staff in the counties, thereby making it difficult to generate citizens’ feedback.
He indicated that the OBI always engages the public after the budget is approved. However, citizens who have been requesting for such engagement should also be done during the formulation stage.
He promised to work with AGENDA and the Non State Actors Secretariat at the Ministry to ensure that adequate opportunities are provided for more citizens’ participation.
He also disclosed that the Ministry was contemplating the piloting of the concept of county budgeting which will allow county authorities to submit budget.
Also speaking during the panel discussion which was facilitated by veteran journalist, Frank Sainworla, GAC’s Financial Comptroller, Mr. Cooper Magbolla, noted that a lot of reforms are now taking place at the GAC which will contribute to increasing Liberia’s score during the next round of survey.
He named some of the reforms as the passage of a new Act which gives the Commission operational security and power to promote transparency and accountability in Liberia.
He pointed out that the Commission has a functional website for citizens to access all audit reports and then pledged the GAC’s commitment to improving its quality assurance system.
Actions for Genuine Democratic Alternatives is a policy research and advocacy think tank working to promote transparent, accountable and participatory governance in Liberia.