interviewBy Godlove Bainkong
Interview of Honourable Fobi Nchinda Simon, Vice President of the Finance and Budget Committee, National Assembly.
Honourable, what appraisal do you make of the content of the programme budget as presented by the different Members of Government?
There are three basic weaknesses which I saw in the presentations. The first weakness is that each ministry has developed its programme but there are certain overarching programmes that should have been coordinated at a much higher level involving all the ministries which have not been done. Examples include the reduction of underemployment and poverty in the country. These are two concerns that concern practically all the ministries. These programmes should be coordinated at a higher level so that each ministry answers to that with quantified objectives. Unfortunately, government says they have the Growth and Employment Strategy Paper. But this strategy paper is not a law. We are talking about putting programmes, passing them into law.
The second weakness I found was the comprehension of the programme budget by the various ministries. I would say about 20 per cent of the ministries understood what the programme budget was and they were able to give the programmes and their different actions with indicators correctly quantified. About 50 per cent of them managed their way through while the rest did not know where the heal they were. The comprehension level was not the same for everybody. The third weakness is that almost all of them have not understood that it is a pluri-annual affair. They are still in the annual framework. When you do realise that it was pluri-annual, you would become more daring in the things that you want to do. They were all timid and I think somebody should give them a kick in the bottom to say look, this is an occasion to dare. Look beyond a year and see things that need a long time to put into place.
But with all these weaknesses, your committee did not send back any Minister?
Our own approach was like a teacher who has given a difficult lesson to his students and they handed in their papers. So, the first year permits us to see the degree of understanding. If you send back, you would have sent back more than half of them. We want to accompany them and see how they can improve. If you send them back, you will delay the budget and the population would suffer. We will accompany them and point out their weaknesses. Next year, the Rapporteurs will work with them but if by the third year they are still recalcitrant, we would have to take out the whip.
Will these weaknesses not compromise the vision of the programme budget?
The programme budget is a very good thing but it must be well done. We did not expect it to be well done the first year. So, there is a lot of work that must be done at the level of government. First, to get all the Ministers to understand that it is pluri-annual and ensure an overarching coordination of it. Once that is put into place and everybody is on it, it has some very good potential. Beyond that, then it becomes a management problem.
Now that it has already passed through your committee and the entire House validated it, do you think all these concerns would be taken care of again?
The 2007 law that puts the programme budget in place also gives Parliament the power of control during the year. During the year, there will be Rapporteurs of the Finance Committee of Parliament that will control every ministry. They will check how the programmes are being done, all the indicators and that the means put at their disposal are being used. We still have the responsibility and possibility of controlling government action on the field by physically verifying documents.
Concretely, what do you think needs to be done from next year so that we attain the goals of a programme budget and reap the benefits like other countries?
First, there must be overarching concerns which must be coordinated at a higher level than that of the Ministers. Underemployment must be controlled because there are many ministries that create jobs, taking the poverty level from 40 per cent where it is now down to zero. Secondly, you must drill the Ministers again and the various programme directors must be constantly reminded as to the objectives of the performance budget. Thirdly, it must be pluri-annual. You cannot build a country on the basis of annual budgets. I even think that three years are short. You must have long, medium and intermediate term visions.