"PARLIAMENT AND THE BUDGETARY PROCESS,
INCLUDING FROM A GENDER PERSPECTIVE"
Nairobi (Kenya), 22 - 24 May 2000
|The following key issues and guidelines, emerged from the Inter-Parliamentary Union's seminar, have been identified for future reference and are applicable more specifically in the English-speaking African context.
The national budget
The budgetary process - Respective roles of Parliament and the Executive
- The national budget is not just a technical instrument compiling income and expenditure. It is the most important policy statement made by the Executive in the course of the year. It reflects the fundamental values underlying national policy. It outlines the government's views of the socio-economic state of the nation. It is a declaration of the government's fiscal, financial and economic objectives and reflects its social and economic priorities. It also reflects the level of gender sensitivity of government policy. The budget further provides a valuable measure of the government's future intentions and past performance.
- The budget is a critically important document in insuring transparency, accountability, comprehensiveness and good governance. By providing a detailed description of proposed expenditure, it allows Parliament and the general public to "know where the money goes" and thus increases transparency. In addition, the budget requires approval by Parliament before the government can spend money or raise revenue, making ministers accountable to Parliament and its committees. Finally, it provides a regulating and disciplining framework within which government departments must be managed and must perform their functions.
- Transparency and accountability should be constitutional requirements, especially with regard to the national budgetary process. Together with transparency in the entire budgetary process, accountability is at the very heart of democracy.
Formulating the budget
- The budgetary process includes three main phases: formulation of the budget; reading and adoption of the budget; execution and oversight.
- The second phase is the one that directly involves the exclusive mandate of Parliament whereas responsibility for drawing up the budget and carrying out the programmes in accordance therewith lies mainly with the Executive, although Parliament is responsible for the policy choices and priorities which should inform the Budget and for overseeing its implementation.
- As far as Parliament is concerned, the budget should not be an event but a process, developing throughout the year if Parliament is to perform its function of overseeing the Executive.
- The budget in itself and the procedure relating to its shaping and execution underscore a fundamental constitutional relationship between the Executive and Parliament.
- Clarity in constitutional provisions regarding the role and powers of Parliament in this field is thus crucial.
Reading and adopting of the budget
- The elaboration of the budget is not only based on national needs and priorities. It is also affected by a variety of external factors and pressures.
- In many countries, the largest single item of expenditure - and one that is not optional - is the cost of servicing debts incurred in attempting to balance the budgets of previous years. Debt servicing may represent such a burden that it deprives the nation of resources and services that are crucial to its development such as education, health, social welfare, housing, etc.
- International financial institutions can impose conditions on States that represent great constraints on the budget drafting process and have a significant impact on the welfare of the community. Parliaments need to be more involved in setting these conditionalities since eventually it is the constituents who bear the brunt thereof.
- Excessive budget deficits tend to drive up interest rates to the detriment of the whole economy and to starve the private sector of funds for productive investment.
- While there should not be any interference in the responsibilities of the Executive in drawing up the budget, this process should be transparent and participatory so as to meet the needs of the community and also feature a consensus in Parliament. In one form or another, the process should involve not only officials and ministries but also large sectors of society: private sector, industrialists, trade unions, NGOs, women's organisations, interests groups, etc. It should also involve vulnerable, underprivileged groups such as the disabled. Provincial parliamentary assemblies, where they exist, should also be able to contribute further to the elaboration of the budget.
- In a democratic environment, Parliament should be able to influence the drafting of the budget more pro-actively and make sure that the balance of appropriations is horizontally correct between the various sectors and groups of the population and vertically correct between the various levels of government: national, provincial and local.
- One effective way of achieving this is through the presentation to Parliament by the Executive of a medium-term policy statement providing an opportunity for MPs to gain an understanding of the overall policy framework within which the next budget will be developed.
- Parliament's influence in the drafting of the budget should be the result of an ongoing process throughout the year, especially through its relevant committees and thanks to the parliamentary mechanisms available for raising the awareness of the Executive about the needs and concerns of the public: oral and written questions procedure, motions, inquiries, Select Committee hearings, White Papers, representations to ministers and departments.
- To secure such an ongoing and meaningful contribution by Parliament, parliamentary programming could, where appropriate, be revised to include separate debates and votes on each appropriation, as well as a full budget debate, full Select Committee examination of each appropriation based on audited and tabled annual reports of each department, ministry and Government Trading Organisation.
- Parliament may already at the early stages of drawing up the budget, help to enhance the gender sensitivity of the budget. It may do so in a variety of forms: for example by looking into economic priorities as reflected in the national budget and by requesting that the budget include gender-disaggregated data. Parliament could also move towards demanding that the national accounting framework is based not only on cash-generating activities but incorporates all productive activities, thus rendering visible in the budget all those unpaid productive activities that are not accurately reflected in national accounts.
- Parliament can assume to the fullest its oversight functions of the Executive with regard to the budget through the following mechanisms: six monthly fiscal reports and projections tabled and debated; mission statements for each appropriation, purchase agreements between ministers and departments, performance agreements between the public service authorities and heads of departments and ministries, and specific government goals or strategic results areas which specifically guide annual budget programmes.
Executing and overseeing the budget
- Once the budget reaches Parliament, it becomes "Parliament's property".
- It is crucial that Parliament should have the necessary time to proceed to a thorough reading of the budget and that budget passage not be rushed through it.
- Parliaments need to be capacitated to deal with the budget adequately. MPs should be more prepared to understand the overall structure and process of the budget as well as the underlying policy issues so as to fully perform their role with regard to the budget. Also, Parliaments should be equipped with the relevant technological facilities for a proper reading of the budget. MPs should further dispose of the assistance of experts and research units and well-trained support staff able to assist them in their duties; to that effect, capacity-building sessions for the parliamentary staff should be developed. In addition, MPs should have access to relevant information, including gender-disaggregated data allowing them to proceed to a gender analysis of the budget.
- The traditional system by which a parliamentary rejection of the budget amounts to a vote of no confidence in the Executive leading to its resignation may affect not only the ruling party but the country as a whole.
- Parliament should be enabled by law to do more than just accept or reject the budget bill. It should be able to discuss the budget as an instrument of policy and to assure itself that it meets the values and principles enshrined in the Constitution. Parliament should also be able to proceed to a detailed sectoral analysis and reading of the budget. It should be able to cross-examine the accounts, and request separate votes for each allocation.
- Parliament should further be authorised by law to amend the budget so as to meet more adequately the needs and aspirations of society as reflected by the variety of the political views within it. However, such powers should not serve to cripple the Executive, especially in the context of a democratic transition.
- The highest interests of the nation should transcend the power relations between the majority and the opposition in Parliament and should not hinder a democratic reading of the budget.
- Affiliation to the majority party should not prevent MPs from looking at the budget critically in the interests of the electorate. For the majority party to be able to discuss and negotiate with the other parties in Parliament, party caucuses in which experts inform MPs about the proposed budget may be a useful instrument in reaching a consensus in Parliament.
- Similarly, the budget should serve for the Executive and Parliament to act as partners interested in achieving the common good.
- The existence in Parliament of a specialised standing committee to deal with all issues relating to the budget process in all its three phases is crucial to ensure that Parliament can perform its constitutional role in this field.
- Through questions and motions, Parliament may in fact be used as a forum to increase transparency in the entire budget process.
- The budget of Parliament should be initiated, developed and approved by Parliament.
Engendering the budget
- Parliament's responsibility with the budget does not end with its adoption. Its oversight and audit functions should be rigorously enforced.
- To that end, there needs to exist a formal link, established by constitutional law, between the Executive and the Parliament with regard to the execution of the budget.
- As a matter of practice, Parliament should arrange for regular reporting to Parliament on how the ministries spend the money through the following procedures: departmental annual reports, examination of each appropriation by parliamentary committees, audited annual accounts of each ministry, specific estimates debates on each department in parliament: independent authority of the Auditor-General to report to Parliament on any matter of expenditure at any time.
- Parliament should make sure that the Auditor-General is appointed by Parliament and has a clear term of office, that he/she has the means to perform his/her mission independently and report to Parliament and its Finance Committee.
- The auditing process entails both the auditing of figures and the auditing of performances.
- The way in which money is actually spent should be fully documented at all stages. The fully audited presentation of accounts to Parliament is one of the symptoms of democracy.
- Parliament should see to it that judicial sanctions are provided for by law and are applied in case of corruption and mismanagement of State resources by officials and the political body.
- Parliament should also see to it that remedies are applied in case of fault.
- Budgets are not neutral instruments. The strategic and policy orientations under-pinning them do reflect interests and preoccupations of people: men and women, boys and girls.
- Engendering the budget is the best way of meeting the aspirations and needs of the majority of men and women, boys and girls.
- Gender issues are cross-sectoral issues.
- The gender approach to society includes men and women, boys and girls, on the basis of equitable treatment, the emphasis being on uplifting those for whom the current social system is the most unfavourable (mainly women)
- It is crucial for MPs in exercising their responsibilities to ascertain the relevance and validity to gender issues of the strategies and policies underpinning the contents of the budget document and bill.
- Budgetary processes must be reviewed and changed as follows if they are to meet gender requirements:
(i) Government's economic strategies and policies and resulting budgetary options should be debated by Parliament long before the budget is drawn up (budget orientation debate);
(ii) MPs should equip themselves with specific instruments to assess budgets to ensure that they are gender-balanced: to this end, MPs must familiarise themselves with the Beijing Platform for Action areas of concentration and related strategies and with macro-economic parameters pointing to a gender-balanced budget.
- African MPs should become more proactive in order to effectively and efficiently influence the emerging budgeting approaches and make sure that they are gender-balanced. There is a clear need for training and guidelines in this area.
- Emphasising "outcomes" and moving from a line budgeting to a programme/budget approach could help engender budgets in a relatively effective way. The Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) emphasises this programme/budget approach, "outcomes" the unification of the recurrent and capital budget as well. It provides an opportunity for further engendering the budget on a concrete basis.
- MPs should insist on elaborate sectoral reviews and seek an informal role in this review with two objectives:
(i) to gather detailed sectoral information;
(ii) to influence orientations towards gender biases.
- In view of the scarcity of resources, MPs should insist on priority - setting in budget documents, highlighting core programmes/projects with the strongest gender bias.
- Governments should be urged to promote reliable statistical databases and particularly gender-disaggregated data.
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