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Tuesday, 3 February 2009

How open is your government?

Not very, according to the latest 2008 Open Budget Index :

Zambia’s score on the Open Budget Index shows that the government provides the public with some information [as opposed to extensive or significant information] on the central government’s budget and financial activities during the course of the budget year. This makes it difficult for citizens to hold government accountable for its management of the public’s money.
The Open Budget Index 2008 evaluates the quantity and type of information that governments make available to their publics in the seven key budget documents that should be issued during the budget year. One of the most important documents is the executive’s budget proposal. It should contain the executive’s plans for the upcoming year along with the cost of the proposed activities. The proposal should be available to the public and to the legislature prior to being finalized, at least three months before the start of the budget year to allow for sufficient review and public debate.
In Zambia the proposal provides some information to the public, meaning citizens have a somewhat comprehensive picture of the government’s plans for taxing and spending for the upcoming year. Moreover, while Zambia publishes fairly complete in-year reports, it is still difficult to track spending, revenue collection and borrowing during the year, since it does not publish a mid-year review. Publishing a mid-year review would greatly strengthen public accountability, since it provides updates on how the budget is being implemented during the year.
It is also somewhat difficult to assess budget performance in Zambia once the budget year is over. A year-end report is produced, allowing comparisons between what was budgeted and what was actually spent and collected, though it lacks some important details. Also, though Zambia makes its audit report public, the government does not report on steps it has taken to address the audit report’s recommendations.
Access to the highly detailed budget information needed to understand the government’s progress in undertaking a specific project or activity remains limited. Zambia has not codified the right to access government information into law.
Beyond improving access to key budget documents, there are other ways in which Zambia’s budget process could be made more open.
While there are opportunities for citizen participation in budget debates, legislative committees that hold public hearings do not release reports on these hearings to the public.
Zambia’s Supreme Audit Institution is some what independent. While the SAI has the discretion in law to undertake those audits it chooses, it does not have a budget sufficient to fulfill its mandate.

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