28 May 2013

How to Improve Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Grassroots Participation in Africa

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Finance Ministers and representatives from various African countries came together on Monday, May 27, Day 1 of the African Development Bank's 48th Annual Meetings, to discuss success stories, opportunities and challenges in improving fiscal transparency and grassroots participation in Africa.

The panel, which included the participation of Aly Abou- Sabaa, AfDB Vice-President, Operations, in charge of Governance, Agriculture and Human Development, discussed research findings presented by the Collaborative Africa Budget Reform Initiative (CABRI), the status of fiscal transparency in Africa and the main challenges to improving fiscal transparency in Africa. The session was aimed at sharing the benefits that countries have experienced with improved improving fiscal transparency and participation.

Abou-Sabaa addressed the audience prior to the intervention of Neil Cole, Executive Secretary of CABRI. The panelists, consisting of technical experts, representing Ministries of Finance in Mauritius, Mali and Kenya, civil society in the Democratic Republic of Congo, engaged in a fruitful debate for Africa.

After welcoming the participants, Abou-Sabaa indicated that, on the heels of the publication of the Open Budget Survey on transparency in January 2013, he was happy to see that South Africa and Uganda scored among the top countries in terms of fiscal transparency.

"Africa is pursuing its agenda on the right target. This survey showed that budget transparency is achievable in the continent," he said. "There is a need for the states to become fully accountable for the money collected and on how it's distributed."

The African Development Bank is committed to pushing for greater fiscal transparency in Africa, Abou-Sabaa underscored. The African Development Bank decided to make governance and accountability one of the key elements of its Ten-Year Strategy 2013-2022, he said. For that, Abou-Sabaa said, the AfDB counted on "CABRI as trustworthy partner to disseminate good practices in terms of fiscal transparency all over Africa."

Fiscal Transparency Gap Still Exists in Africa

For CABRI's Cole, "CABRI is set up to insure across Africa that public financial resources are managed with integrity, transparency and accountability for effective and efficient service delivery, sustainable growth and development" and to "encourage African countries to share knowledge and to take common position to provide credible information when elaborating and executing the budget."

However, there is still a fiscal transparency gap in Africa: one can see stagnation and some deterioration of fiscal transparency reforms in many countries, and progress only for South Africa and, to a lesser extent, Uganda. According to Cole, great achievements in South Africa are to be explained by the democratic transition which prompted the implementation of transparency measures such as the Public Fiscal Management Act. These measures encourage the elaboration and the execution of the budget under the scrutiny of the Parliament, the citizens and the various shareholders, along with the adoption of compulsory audits for previous years.

The panel agreed then on the need to encourage grassroots participation through better public education. It is indeed through citizen scrutiny one can encourage better practices and transparency, and pressure government to be more accountable. For that, citizens need to fully understand how the budget elaboration and execution affect them.

The following measures were discussed to enhance fiscal transparency and grassroots participation:

the implementation of multi-annual program-based budget;

encourage public consultation with various stakeholder to better assess how to better allocate revenues and see what are the public services to improve;

and set clear targets and performance management through citizens and parliaments scrutiny.

After a presentation and the intervention of the panelists, the audience, which included representatives of various African Finance Ministries and African senior accountants, engaged in a high-level debate with the panel.

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