…low ranking on budget process, openness and public participation hits
MASERU – Lesotho scored very lowly on three thematic areas in the Open Budget Survey in the years 2017, 2019 and 2021, an assessment by the International Budget Partnership.Lesotho scored of 0 out of 100 indicates that it provides no opportunities for the public to engage in the budgetary processes for the nation.This is lower than the global average score of 12.The evaluation was made on three strategic categories including transparency, participation and oversight in the areas of national budgeting, tracking and accountability systems.Maleshoane Lekomola, budget controller in the Ministry of Finance, said Lesotho has indeed been struggling to pull her weight out of fragmented budget inclusion and public participation as the report indicated.
While there is some improvement in the year 2021 as indicated in the report, the zero score is a clear indication that the country has to incorporate stakeholder sectors in national budget processes, including civil society and the private sector, Lekomola said.Among other challenges, she alluded to sharing of information to a wider community of Basotho as a problem that needs to be overcome in future, also pointing to the inconsistency of rendering quarterly government expenditure reports which has been a problem as oftentimes noted by the office of the Auditor General reports.
“Indeed the performance is not a satisfactory one as it indicates a wide room for development and things we can do as a country to reach a fairer community and include the voices of our people in the budget processes.“Efforts such as budget speeches and reports from the office of the Auditor General are part of our efforts to engage, inform and engage the communities,” she said.In a sign of optimism, Lekomola indicated that there is more the country can do to reach out to communities to have their take on what should inform their budget and fiscal resources.
The Open Budget Survey uses 145 equally weighted indicators to measure budget transparency.These indicators assess whether the central government makes eight key budget documents available to the public in a timely manner and whether these documents present budget information in a comprehensive and useful way.The eight strategic budget documents include, the Pre-Budget Statement that discloses the broad parameters of fiscal policies in advance of the budget.
The Executive’s Budget Proposal outlines the government’s economic forecast, anticipated revenue, expenditures, and debt and is submitted by the executive to the legislature for approval detailing the sources of revenue, allocations to ministries, proposed policy changes, and other information important for understanding the country’s fiscal situation and audit report that issued by the supreme audit institution.These documents speak to and are used to examine the soundness and completeness of the government’s year-end accounts and spending conduct.Each country receives a composite score (out of 100) that determines its ranking on the Open Budget Index – the world’s only independent and comparative measure of budget transparency.
To measure public participation, the Open Budget Survey assesses the degree to which the government provides opportunities for the public to engage in budgetary processes.Such opportunities should be provided throughout the budget cycle by the executive, the legislature, and the supreme audit institution.The questions assessing participation in the Open Budget Survey 2017 were revised to align them with the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency’s new principles on public participation, which now serve as the basis for widely accepted norms on public participation in national budget processes.
Therefore, data on the extent of public participation in budgeting in the Open Budget Survey 2017 cannot be compared directly to data from earlier editions.In the year 2017, Lesotho scored zero in the tree areas of openness, public participation and generic oversight of the budget processes in comparison to other regional counterpart countries such as South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.In the year 2019, Lesotho scored 31 in the transparency, zero on public participation and 31 on the oversight score card.
Marisa Foraci, chief of social policy UNICEF Lesotho, said globally, governments are encouraged to involve citizens in decision-making on issues that affect their welfare, including how public resources are allocated and utilised.Furthermore, one in two Basotho citizens is below the age of 24, and children, as much as young people in various contexts, have valuable knowledge of their own and their peers’ situations.Such knowledge may aid in identifying gaps and evaluating the effectiveness of policy frameworks, resource allocations, and spending by enhancing children and youth participation in the budget process.
“Despite the challenges faced during the last two years because of the Covid-19 health and economic crisis, Lesotho has come a long way and even improved its score for participation in the budget process from 0 to 1 in the context of a difficult situation”.Foraci added that the government of Lesotho is aware and is taking active steps to improve.In particular, and through the support of UNICEF and the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT), the Ministry of Finance is actively working to empower Civil Society Organisations, youth and women groups, and the private sector with precise tools to involve them in the national budgetary process and to define the roles they could play in public budgeting.
In line with this goal, Foraci said the Ministry for Finance, UNICEF and GIFT aim to capacitate the Parliament to enhance its active role in policies that guide annual national budgets.The introduced mechanisms align with international best practices and are expected to improve Lesotho’s Open Budget Survey scores in the coming years.In an interview, the Director of Programmes at Lesotho Council of NGOs (LCN), Sekonyela Mapatja, said they are willing as civil society to get the community to play their role and mandate to participate and get engaged in national budget processes.
He said the LCN is ready for meaningful engagements with not only the Ministry of Finance but with the Central Bank of Lesotho and other key players in the Lesotho finance space to have a coherent communication and approach that will set the country in a better position of public participation. Mapetja said they had and continue to empower communities about budgeting and budget tracking from the human rights point of view, a narrative he said can only be achieved when government and CSOs join hands and pull towards a unified direction and agenda.