Parliamentarians and staff members from eight countries on three continents gained new insights into budget oversight in a three-day World Bank Institute (WBI)-NDI seminar that focused, among other things, on the role of parliamentary budget offices in overseeing spending and aiding transparency.
NDI’s director of governance programs, John Johnson, a speaker at the July seminar, discussed the international movement to establish parliamentary budget offices. Such agencies, he said, aid parliaments by reviewing and simplifying executive budget data so members of parliament can more easily use it to influence economic and development policies. The budget analysis also makes budget information more understandable for the public and increases accountability in spending.
To illustrate the benefits and challenges of setting up parliamentary budget offices, Johnson focused on the experience of Uganda in 2001. Initially blocked by the executive, the Uganda Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) was finally pushed through after months of lobbying by supporters. Since its creation, the Uganda PBO has identified ways to maximize tax revenues, developed a simple system for parliamentary committees to monitor expenditures and performed other oversight functions. While a success story, the office’s experiences illustrate that new budget offices need support to overcome both initial and ongoing resistance, Johnson said.
Participants in the seminar were from Thailand, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Morocco, and Lebanon. They discussed the oversight systems in place in their countries, avenues for further reform, and the need to overcome legal and cultural barriers to parliamentary budget oversight A theme that arose repeatedly was the importance of nonpartisanship in budget oversight and the difficulty of maintaining it.
The seminar featured guest presentations by Rasheed Draman of Canada’s Parliamentary Center; Barry Anderson, former acting director of the Congressional Budget Office; and Douglas Criscitello, founder of the New York City Independent Budget Office. The speakers addressed aspects of budget oversight and the role of information in the budget process. Participants concluded the seminar by joining break-out groups to discuss steps toward developing budget offices for their own legislatures.
More information on the seminar, including copies of the presentations, may be found on the World Bank Institute web site.
Published on Sept. 18, 2008