Mogadishu — After a closed session on Sunday (April 20th) attended by the speaker of the Somali parliament, his two deputies, the 15 parliamentary committee chairs and ministry officials, lawmakers said they were still unsatisfied with Ministry of Finance's budgetary accounting.
The details about last year's expenditures remain "unclear" and other requested changes to this year's budget were not included, Defence Committee Chairman Hussein Arab Isse told Sabahi after the meeting.
Lawmakers gave the ministry another week to provide the necessary information, he said.
This is the latest step by Somali lawmakers to hold the Ministry of Finance accountable for preparing and providing comprehensive and transparent financial reports related to budgetary spending.
When Minister of Finance Hussein Abdi Halane presented the country's 2014-2015 budget to parliament on March 31st, totalling $218 million, parliament pressed the Ministry of Finance to submit financial reports from the previous year's budget and to clarify the salaries of government soldiers and generals before tackling the budget for the next fiscal year, lawmaker Mohamed Omar Dalha told Sabahi.
"The debate stemmed from the way the Ministry of Finance prepared [the budget], which is missing many things," he said.
The ministry has requested an inordinate sum of money for expenses it accrued for rental allowances and other unspecified expenses, he said. Another issue he mentioned was the lack of prioritisation for funding social services that would benefit regular citizens.
Dalha said lawmakers were committed to combatting corruption and irregularities in the budget, and would review it to ensure resources are divided more equitably among various ministries.
"Parliament has to pass something that is clear, understandable and includes an audit," he said. "The most important thing that the parliament wants is to keep track of the budget."
"They have brought us the budget for 2014, but they have not provided any financial reports for 2013. Last year's money has to be accounted for in order to account for this year's," Dalha said. "If last year's money is not accounted for, there will be no way of knowing how this year's funds will be spent."
Fellow lawmaker Faisal Omar Guled welcomed parliament's check on the Ministry of Finance, but said passing the budget should be expedited so that the government can focus on the tasks ahead.
"The country is frozen as a result of this budget," he said. "The ministries cannot pay for necessary expenses. Travel [plans] for senior officials who had to participate to international conferences that are indispensable [for Somalia] were put on hold."
Step in the right direction:
Parliament's new focus on tightening up and providing oversight for public expenditures is a step in the right direction that can decrease government waste, said Abdullahi Hassan Shirwa of Somali Peace Line, a Mogadishu-based non-governmental organisation.
"If parliament is improving oversight on the administration, I see it as a win for the country and its people that can bring about progress," Shirwa told Sabahi. "The Ministry of Finance must provide its financials for last year as it is required by law and everything [parliament does] should be based on the law."
Shamso Mohamed, 26, who studied management and business at Kampala International University, said the parliament was taking unprecedented steps to hold the Ministry of Finance accountable.
"I have been closely following media reports about the debates in parliament between Somali lawmakers, and I can say they are on the path to combat corruption since the Ministry of Finance [has been asked to] revise the budget it submitted and it was not passed quickly like we have seen many times in the past," she told Sabahi.
"The other victory we have is that from the opening of this parliamentary session, [the parliament ruled that] no additional funds can be withdrawn from the Central Bank without the knowledge of the financial committee," she said.
Asha Abdullahi Isse, who served as deputy minister for women's affairs under the Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed administration, credited parliament's new approach to its leadership.
"The speaker and his two deputies know the law," she told Sabahi. "In previous [administrations] it was a common occurrence for the speaker and the president or the prime minister to be friends. However, now there are people who understand the law and know how to separate the work from the friendship."
Isse also said the current parliament was able to work more independently because they receive their salaries on a regular basis, unlike under the transitional federal government when salaries were inconsistent at best.
"It is easy to understand why it was difficult for a parliamentarian who was not getting paid to perform his job," she said.