VOL 18 NO -108 REGD NO DA 1589 | Dhaka, Saturday February 26 2011 Are the government officials good stewards of public funds?
The parliament should play an active role in ensuring the availability and credibility of fiscal information. There should be clear procedure for budget execution, monitoring, and reporting. The accounting system should provide a reliable basis for tracking revenues, commitments, payments, arrears, liabilities, and assets, writes M S Siddiqui
A budget is a government's plan on the use of public resources to meet the citizens' needs. Budget Transparency (BT) means that ordinary citizens can access information about how public resources are allocated and used. Budget Transparency is defined as the full disclosure of all relevant fiscal information in a timely and systematic manner. "BT is a precondition for public participation in budget processes. The combination of BT and public participation in budget processes has the potential to combat corruption, foster public accountability of government agencies and contribute to judicious use of public funds" (OECD, 2002).
BT enables citizens to assess whether the government officials are good stewards of public funds. BT is a fundamental precondition for accountability and public participation in governance processes. Representatives of civil society and social organizations in our country have long been demanding ofthe government to initiate budget formulation from the district level to make the national budget a democratic and pro-poor one. The government has also promised to decentralize the authority to district level but has yet to initiate the process.
The Washington-based Open Budget Initiative is a global watchdog of budgets of different countries of the world. The Open Budget Index (OBI), prepared with the help of local partners, provides ratings of the openness of budget materials of different countries. The Department of Development Studies of the University of Dhaka was the local partner for OBI for the Bangladesh budget for the fiscal year 2010-11. The Index assesses the availability of key budget documents, the quantity of information they provide, and the timeliness of their dissemination to citizens in order to provide reliable information on each country's commitment to budget transparency and accountability.
The average OBI score of the countries surveyed in 2010 is 42. According to published reports, only 20 of the 94 countries included in the 2010 Open Budget Survey had OBI scores above 60 and can be characterized as providing their citizens with enough budget data to enable them to develop a comprehensive analysis and understanding of their national budgets. About one-third of the countries (33) provide some information and scored between 41 and 60. In a plurality of countries (41), the amount of information provided was acutely inadequate. Of these, 19 countries provided minimal information and scored between 21 and 40), and 22 countries provided little to no budget information and scored 20 or less. The 22 countries are: Algeria, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Chad, China, Democratic Republic ...