Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fiji ranks poorly in ‘Open Budget’ report

Radio Australia News - 27 October 2010

The world’s leading survey of people’s access to their governments’ financial documents has placed Fiji second last in a list of 94 countries. The Open Budget Survey 2010 is produced by the International Budget Partnership, an independent, non government organisation which is funded by charitable trusts such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. While Papua New Guinea scored 57 out of 100 on the open budget index, Fiji scored an embarrassing zero.
Jemima Garrett, Pacific economic and business reporter

Speaker: Paul Barker, director, Institute of National Affairs, Papua New Guinea 

GARRETT: The Open Budget Survey is now in its sixth year. Most of the 40 countries that have been ranked through every survey have substantially improved the transparency of their budget process or opportunities for community participation. Fiji, however, has gone to the bottom of the class.
Paul Barker, director of Papua New Guinea’s Institute of National Affairs, is one of the experts involved in compiling the survey.
BARKER: Fiji has been a major disappointment, part of the survey does require accountability, including to a parliament, and if you eliminate or sideline those institutions for accountability, yes, you slide. And unfortunately Fiji has slid in a number of respects, certainly in this survey it’s slid from being roughly in the middle, right down to being together with Chad, Iraq, Equatorial Guinea and other totally unaccountable countries.
GARRETT: Overall, the Open Budget Survey found all but 20 of the countries it assessed failed to meet basic standards of transparency and accountability. Papua New Guinea, ranked 26th, fell at the top of that group. Paul Barker says PNG’s treasury and the Central Bank have done a good job in making budget and financial information available on their websites.
But he says PNG’s rank fell because of its handling of off budget funds.
BARKER: There are quite a significant amount, and a growing amount of public funds or quasi public funds, which are not fully accounted for in the budget. And these include funds run by the state corporation overseeing body, the IPPC, but also some of the funds coming in from license fees in fisheries and things like this. A lot of funds are also in these trust accounts, and these trust accounts are not fully [...] treasury’s doing their best – they’re trying to account for them – but there’s a strong perception that those funds and the details are not comprehensive.
GARRETT: Paul Barker says PNG needs freedom of information legislation and better funding for the parliamentary accounts committee. And he believes citizens have a role to play in keeping their government honest.
BARKER: Social order, I think, is becoming very important, which is the community itself going out demanding information on the budget right at the local level, and then going and verifying on the ground whether those things that are stated in the budget, like building a new school or putting in a classroom or whatever, whether they’re actually occurring. Because we know that one of the deficiencies in PNG is, yes, the national budget information is put out, but there’s a big discrepancy between the budget and what actually is happening on the ground right down at the local level. The auditor general gets its information very, very late from the relevant institutions, it’s history by the time it’s actually able to come out with its audit report. So we need something that’s much more spontaneous, and we need the community itself to know and to be able to work with the auditor general so that they can then tip off the auditor general and say, Hey, look, this has not happened or what’s being reported is not true.
GARRETT TO BARKER: More openness and more transparency can be difficult for public servants, particularly those that have a lot on their plate. What’s in it for them? Can an open budget process help public servants do a better job?
BARKER: Absolutely, for public servants who feel that their job is actually to deliver effective public services, then having the community onside, aware and onside, and helping them to keep the process transparent, to be able to effectively lobby to make sure that there is adequate funding that is allocated for say health or schools or for roads, and that it’s actually released, is immensely powerful.

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