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Closing the accountability gap: Establishing functional parliamentary budget offices in Africa

3 September 2019
Featured Image Role Of Legislature

Transparency alone is not sufficient to achieve accountability. Legislatures, as elected officials representing their constituencies, play a critical role throughout the budget process, specifically to provide budget oversight to ensure accountability. Given that the legislature’s role in the budget process differs by country, do legislatures have the capabilities to play this role effectively?

To better understand the role of different African legislatures in the budget process, and how their role facilitates improved budgeting, implementation of spending plans and oversight, CABRI hosted a policy dialogue on the Role of the Legislature in the Budget Process. At this dialogue, ministry of finance officials, legislators and parliamentary budget office (PBO) officials identified challenges and critical interventions to improve their country’s public financial management (PFM) cycle. The various challenges identified by officials include the need to establish a functional PBO and/or to improve the functioning of an existing PBO. Many francophone African countries lack a PBO, as illustrated by CABRI’s research on the role of the legislature in the budget process in Burkina Faso.

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PBOs are intended to provide objective, nonpartisan analysis to support the budget process and help legislatures to generate effective budget and economic policy. CABRI’s The Legislatures’ Challenge: Powers without Information, Information without Powers finds that some legislatures in African countries, such as Kenya and South Africa, have established PBOs to support parliamentarians in the budget process. To facilitate peer-learning and exchange, the African Network of PBOs was established and is currently housed in the South African PBO. CABRI’s research on the Role of the Legislature in the Budget Process in Kenya also suggests that legislative committees may not always utilise the expertise of their PBO to hold the government to account.

CABRI’s two-day workshop – Establishing Functional PBOs in Africa – addressed this capabilities gap by training ministries of finance, legislators, PBOs and technical staff from budget and appropriation committees to focus on the analytical capabilities and structure of a functional PBO. The training modules focused on the PFM cycle and the capabilities needed to improve the legislature’s role in analysing budget documents during budget formulation, programme-based budgeting, budget oversight, and audit and evaluation.

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Participants used a workbook to better understand how PBOs can analyse budget information for parliamentarians and legislative committees. The budget formulation module focused on how to conduct budget analysis, general guidelines for costing estimates of proposed programmes included by parliamentarians, and the importance of considering debt during budget formulation. The third module focused on the switch from traditional budgeting to programme-based budgeting and the issues legislatures face in the implementation of such reform. The fourth module focused on how to analyse budget execution reports for improved budget oversight. The final module focused on how Parliament can use the supreme audit institution to audit specific ministries and/or programmes as well as how to scrutinise audit reports for improved budget allocations in the future based on previous performance.

Each module was followed by an exercise requesting participants to take stock of what capabilities parliamentarians currently have access to and what kind of professionals would need to be recruited. Participants were also asked how their PBO would work with parliamentarians, legislative committees and ministry of finance officials. To facilitate post-workshop discussion, participants drafted a provisional strategy to convince parliamentary leadership of the PBO’s potential mission and objective, and a proposed organogram of what the functional PBO would look like.

CABRI will survey participants in a few months’ time to assess progress on the establishment of a functional PBO in their country.

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