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16.03.2009 Business & Finance

ISODEC calls for budget transparency, accountability

By Daniel Nonor ([email protected]) - Ghanaian Chronicle

The Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC), a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), has called on the government, legislature, Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) and donors to take action to ensure budget transparency and accountability.

ISODEC also demanded urgent improvements in public access to budget information. A Budget Analyst at the Centre for Budget Advocacy of ISODEC, Mr. Nicholas Adamtey made the call in Accra at the launch of 2008 Open Budget Index (IBO), in which Ghana scored 49% out of 85 countries across the world.

Ghana's score on the OBI shows that the government provides the public with some information on the central government's budget and financial activities during the course of the budget year. This makes it cumbersome 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 eight key budget documents, namely -Pre-budget statement, Executive's budget proposal, Citizens budget, Enacted budget, In-year reports, Mid-year review, End-year report and Audit report that should be issued during the budget year.

One of the most important documents is the Executive's budget proposal, which 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 Ghana, the executive's budget proposal provides substantial information to the public, meaning citizens have a fairly comprehensive picture of the government's plans for taxing and spending for the upcoming year.

However, Mr. Adamtey intimated that it is rather difficult to track spending, revenue collection and borrowing during the year.

He added that Ghana publishes fairly detailed in-year reports, but the government does not publish a mid-year review.

The Budget Analyst stressed that publishing the mid-year review would strengthen public accountability, saying 'it would provide a more comprehensive update on how the budget is being implemented during the year'.

It is also difficult to assess budget performance in Ghana once the budget year is over. A year-end report is not published, preventing comparisons between what was budgeted and what was actually spent and collected at the end of the year.

Also, Ghana does not make its audit report public and does not provide any information on whether the audit report's recommendations are successfully implemented.

Indeed, access to the highly detailed budget information needed to understand the government's progress in undertaking a specific project or activity remains limited. Ghana, after 50 years of independent has yet to codify the right to access government information into law.

Amazingly, Ghana's parliament does not hold hearing on the budget in which the public can participate, and also the budget is full of figures and statistics which are a nuisance to the public.

To this end, the Executive Director of ISODEC, Mr. Bishop Akolgo has advised the government to disseminate budget information through methods and the media, which are understandable to the wider population.

This he noted should include dissemination of information through radio or other broadcast media, and in languages spoken by the majority of the population.