MPs push on with quest to control Budget

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By David Ohito

The failure by President Kibaki to sign the Fiscal Management Bill (2008) has not gone down well in some quarters.

Kibaki returned the Bill, which would have made the Budget making process more inclusive, equitable transparent and accountable, with a memorandum proposing more changes.

He argued that “in observance of the doctrine of separation of powers” Parliament should not get involved in the management of public resources.

But former Kikuyu MP Paul Muite supports the Bill, arguing that MPs are not aiming at usurping the powers of the Executive.

When new districts are created without a budget in place, we run into problems of DCs begging for houses, vehicles and fuel and this open avenues for corruption,” said Muite.

The chairman of Parliament’s budget committee Otieno Ogindo welcomed Kibaki’s recommendations.

“We accept the proposals. The law is overdue for enactment. We will cede ground in a give-and-take approach. It should be prioritised for debate and adoption,” he said.

The President appears to be in agreement with MPs on clauses of the proposed law but raises questions on sections that attempt to claw powers from the Executive.

Said Kibaki in reference to a clause in the proposed Budget Office: “Although the function is advisory in nature, it is nonetheless an unnecessary intrusion into the mandate of the Executive, which should have the power to determine its own organisational structure independent of Parliament.”

But questions linger over solutions to wasteful and corrupt spending in top Government circles as the country’s 46 per cent of gross domestic product goes to pay questionable debts. Last week, Finance Assistant Minister Oburu Oginga said the country’s external debt stood at nearly Sh1 trillion.

Hold accountable

Oburu argues that every newborn baby has a debt of Sh25,500 and every Kenyan pays Sh3,800 annually.

Civil society leaders question how debts were incurred. “When a Government spends on debts which cannot be accounted for, it leaves taxpayers disgruntled,” said Mars Group Director Mwalimu Mati.

The essence of providing adequate information to the public is to hold Government accountable for managing their money.

Although Kenya fairs well according to the Open Budget Index 2008, in a survey conducted by International Budget Partnership, it scored 57 out of 100. This is an indication that the Government provides the public with some, albeit incomplete, information on the Central Government’s Budget and financial activities.

Kenyans believe that the proposed laws would curb unpopular, wasteful, and corrupt spending.

South Africa is the second best country, after United Kingdom, in terms of openness and transparency in collecting and spending public funds.

It scored 87 out of 100 on the Open Budget Index, which is based on responses to survey questions, assesses eight key budget documents that international good practice requires all governments to publish.

But even as we wait for this law to be passed and enacted, some questions remain unanswered. Is our Budget negotiated before approval? Is there sufficient transparency in the Budget making process? Why should the poor, who have no say in the accruement of the debts, bear the burden of debt repayment?

Can Kenyans put pressure on the Government to fight corruption, to put in place the required debt management and monitoring mechanisms and to demand for debt relief as proof of its commitment to alleviate poverty?

Setting priorities

Just like a household budget, the national Budget deals with revenue and expenses. It involves setting priorities, estimating, allocating and monitoring. It must estimate what it will cost the country, allocate amounts to its departments and provinces, or regions and effectively monitor allocations.

The Fiscal Policy should cover issues like size of the state job creation, social development and redistribution. All these have budgetary implications.

South Africa has a budget council whose function is to co-ordinate the different interest of national and provincial governments to make sure that agreement is reached on how to share revenue.

Drafting of a national Budget is not easy. It involves drawing up estimates, redrafting, and transparent negotiations. Experts argue that the overall budget has weak legal and institutional framework that need review.

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