THE 2010 Open Budget Index, which reported on the availability of budget information in 94 countries, rated Fiji as equal last for budget transparency, with a score of zero. Fiji's score had dropped from 26 out of 100 to zero since the 2008 Open Budget Index.
The 2012 Open Budget Index will be released in January 2013. A regional launch involving Fiji, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand is also earmarked.
How will Fiji rate in the next report?
Two weeks ago, in this business section of The Fiji Times, we encouraged readers to think about the national budget process, and the need for greater budget transparency in Fiji. We called for immediate publication of the Draft Budget Estimate and Audit Reports. Worthy to note is the 2012 Budget Estimates is now available on the Ministry of Finance website, http://www.finance.gov.fj/s/government-budget.html - all 350 pages.
Publication of budget documents helps citizens understand how public money is raised and spent, and understand government priorities. It helps citizens understand why some roads, schools or hospitals get funding, and others don't. The government produces budget documentation, but it generally isn't available to the public.
But international best practices strongly recommend that authorities not only publish budget documents, but do so at the appropriate time during the budget year. This means they must be published either in the formulation, approval, execution or oversight stages of the budget year.
For instance, the Draft Budget Estimate must be publicly available at least three months before the start of the budget year (formulation stage). The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) encourages governments to publish their Auditor-General's report within six months of the budget year whilst the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recommends a one-year maximum timeframe (oversight stage).
In this article, we will look at other budget documents that should be published, and action that citizens can take to understand how public money is spent or accounted for.
This document explains the rules and expectations used in developing the budget. It also contains an outline of budget expenditure across different industry sectors. Fiji publishes its pre-budget statement. See Circular 08 — 2012 Budget Strategy and Baseline Budget in the following link, http://www.finance.gov.fj/s/finance-circulars.html
On-going reports reveal how money is being raised and spent during the budget year, and how it is tracking against the budget help us understand how and when adjustments to the budget are made. Natural disasters, or events overseas, may mean that public money needs to be used differently. Regular reporting would help citizens understand these necessary changes. Fiji produces but does not make public its in-year, quarterly, mid-year review and year-end reports.
Budget documents are usually lengthy and could be too technical (or boring!) for the general public (for example the published 2012 budget supplement document is 124 pages and budget estimates is 350 pages). A Citizens Budget is a summary of the budget which interprets all the technical jargon into a language that can easily be understand by citizens. It may include income and expenditure information, industry sector information, and information on the existence of targeted programs (for example, a program to address the issue of school drop outs). A Citizens Budget should be made available so that media organisations, civil society organisations and citizens can access budget information easily and be involved in how public money is spent. Fiji does not produce nor publish a Citizens Budget.
Participating in the budget process
This year, private sector organisations and civil societies were invited to provide budget submissions during July, but it was after the government had largely agreed on its budget spending for 2013. The 2012 Budget Strategy doesn't provide for consulting with the public during the development or implementation stages of the budget, but the public and private sectors are encouraged to make submissions on the budget directly to the Ministry of Finance or through the appropriate Ministry or Department. If you have ideas on how public money should be spent or interested in finding out how it is accounted for, visit the Ministry's library located on Level 7, Ro Lalabalavu House, Suva. Individuals and communities can also submit your ideas and proposals to the Ministry of Finance at suitable opportunities
The information in this article has been written jointly by the Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific International (FSPI) and Transparency International (TI) Fiji. These organisations can provide further information and assistance on how the budget process works, how to access available information and how to be involved in the budget process. Contact details for these organisations are available in the phone directory, or online - www.fspi.org.fj or www.transparencyfiji.org.
* This article is the second in a series on budget transparency. The next article will examine how public money is budgeted and spent on youth-related matters. For further details, contact Albert Cerelala, FSPI, email@example.com.