By Alfred Koroma
The Open Budget Survey (OBS) report published yesterday by the Budget Advocacy Network (BAN) has again stated that the Republic of Sierra Leone Parliament is weak in monitoring the expenditure of public finances in the country.
The OBS report rates Parliament 33 out of 100 percent in monitoring budget implementation, saying Parliament provides weak oversight during the planning stage of the budget cycle and weak oversight during the implementation stage.
The survey which only assessed documents published and events, activities, or developments that took place through 31 December 2020, examines the role legislatures and Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) play in budget process and the extent to which they provide oversight, scoring each country on a scale of 0 to 100 based on 18 weighted indicators.
In combination, the survey grades Parliament and Audit Service Sierra Leone 46 out of 100 percent. But individual scores grade the auditing performance of Audit Service Sierra Leone 72 percent.
Sierra Leone Parliament has a fraught record of oversight functions. Most recently in March this year, a report published by Institute for Governance Reforms (IGR) after reviewing six audits reports identifies poor oversight by Parliamentary Oversight Committees as one of the issues re-appearing in all the audit reports reviewed.
The IGR report which reviewed the 2015- 2020 audit reports IGR says parliament approved a total amount of Le23.84 trillion (approximately USD 2.4 Billion) for all Ministries, Departments and Agencies and local councils, but that the legislative house poorly performed its oversight functions to monitor the utilization of those funds.
To improve oversight, OBS in it survey, recommends that the country’s legislature debate budget policy before the Budget Proposal from the Executive is tabled in the legislative house.
Also, OBS recommends that the PFM Act be amended to ensure the Executive’s Budget Proposal is submitted to the legislators at least two months before the start of the budget year, adding that a legislative examines in-year budget implementation and publish reports with their findings online in a timely manner.
In practice, the report say, it should be ensured that the legislature is consulted before the executive shifts funds specified in the enacted budget between administrative units, spends any unanticipated revenue or reduces spending due to revenue shortfalls during the budget year.
It is also recommended that Parliamentary Budget Office aid legislators in examining in-year budget implementation by conducting their own review and analysis of in-year reporting.
Representatives from the Ministry of Finance, Audit Service Sierra Leone, and Parliament among others witness the launching of the 8th edition of the OBS reports.
Reacting to the findings of the report, Ibrahim Jinisa, Director of Parliamentary Budget Office said a lot is being done in oversight, but acknowledged there is a problem of getting reports of the oversight to the public.
Sierra Leone has however slightly improved on public access to budget information according to the 2021 International Budget Partnership Open Budget Survey which examines 120 countries. Budget oversight also slightly improved from 42 to 46 out of 100, BAN noted in a press statement.