The National Budget: Another Policy Document for Showmanship?
The effective development of any country often depends on the accountable and transparent use of its internal and external sources of revenue. One way a country ensures the accountable and transparent use of its internal and external revenue is by the use of budgets.
In nearly every country, budgets have become an effective way to achieve sound development policies. For example, the national budget is crucial for effective development is Liberia, West Africa. The current national budget is a 12 months plan aligned to policy priorities in the Liberian Government's Agenda for Transformation (AfT).
However, nearly three quarters into the current fiscal year, Liberians do not know how much revenue the Government has collected and how much it has spent compliant with the national budget. Nor do they have an idea of how many development projects are in progress and how many the Government has completed. This paper discusses the National Budget for the Fiscal Year 2012/13 as a tool for effective development, with a focus on Government and donor sector projects in the 15 counties.
Overview of Liberia’s National Budget for the Fiscal Year 2012/13
Liberia’s National Budget for the fiscal period beginning July 1, 2012 and ending June 30, 2013 is US$672m. The revenue configuration of the national budget includes: (1) core revenue; (2) contingency revenue; (3) borrowing; (4) carry forward, or unspent money left over from the previous year; and (5) adjusted additional revenue.
The current budget focuses on several key areas of investment aimed at transforming the Liberian economy, including investments in infrastructure, youth development, capacity development, reconciliation, and sector investment programs in energy, agriculture, health, social development, education, security, industry, infrastructure, municipal government, public administration, and transparency and accountability.
In addition to the national budget, donors such as the World Bank provide off-budget project aid and sector budget support. For the Fiscal Year 2012/2013, donors are providing US$515m of off-budget sector project support in line with the Government’s national development priorities, thereby generating national revenue and expenditure of US$1,187m.
Government and Donor Sector Projects in the 15 Counties
More than 240 Government and donor sector projects are earmarked in the current budget for implementation in the fifteen counties. About 155 of these are donor-funded. The remaining 89 projects are Government-funded. These projects are spread out in the following sectors: energy and the environment, infrastructure and basic services, agriculture, health, education, social development services, public administration, security and the rule of law, transparency and accountability, municipal government, and industry and commerce.
Montserrado County has 112 Government and donor sector projects, valued at US$133,735,000; Bong County is in a distant second with 16 Government and donor sector projects, valued at US$5,653,000; Nimba County has 13 projects, valued at US$6,406,000; River Gee County has 13 projects, valued at US$10,304,000; Lofa County has 12 projects, valued at US$5,436,000; Grand Gedeh County has 11 projects, valued at US$6,932,000; Bomi County has 10 projects, valued at US$2,378,000; and Gbarpolu County has 10 projects, valued at US$1,937,000.
Sinoe County has 9 projects, valued at US$9,969,000. Grand Kru County has 8 projects, valued at US$2,605,000. Grand Bassa County has 8 projects, valued at US$1,909,000. Maryland County has 8 projects, valued at US$5,307,000. Margibi County has 7 projects, valued at US$22,333,000; Rivercess County has 5 projects, valued at US$787,000; and Grand Cape Mount County has 2 projects, valued at US$39,000.(Source: Approved National Budget 2012/2013; www.dob.mof.gov.lr)
Making the National Budget a Tool for Effective Development
With this number of Government and donor sector projects, one can rightly look forward to seeing massive development and economic returns in the 15 counties. How then do we make the national budget a tool for effective development at the local level?
To make the national budget a tool for effective development at the local level, the Government must promote transparency and accountability. It must provide the general public with access to relevant information about the budget performance by publishing reports of funds collected and spent and projects implemented in a timely manner.
As British Prime Minister David Cameron observed at the end of the recent UN High level Panel meeting in Liberia, there can be no growth and poverty reduction (and by extension effective development) if there is corruption in government and lack of transparency in donor aid and dealings.
It is worrisome that nearly three quarters into the current fiscal year, civil society and the public are yet to see outturn reports for the current fiscal year (2012/13) on the Ministry of Finance website (www.dob.mof.gov.lr). Even the final report for the previous fiscal year (2011/12), from which lessons can be learned and applied to the current budget implementation, has not yet been published on the website. The notable exceptions, though, are current national budget itself and the third quarterly report of the previous fiscal year (2011/12) can be seen on the Ministry website.
Where, one wonders, are the first and second quarterly outturn reports for the current fiscal year? Where are the key documents with which to track expenditure and measure progress on budget performance? How do we know how much revenue Government has collected and how much it has spent compliant with the national budget? How do we measure progress on the Government and donor sector projects in each of the fifteen counties?
The National Budget for the Fiscal Year 2012/13 has apparently become policy document good only for showmanship, in spite of its alignment with the Agenda for Transformation and the Medium Term Growth and Development Strategy. Performance reports are hardly published for public access.
For both the Medium Term Growth and Development Strategy and the Agenda for Transformation to succeed, the national budget must cease to be just another policy document published on the website for window-dressing. It must cease to be ‘an elephant meat’ for corrupt government officials.
Government must ensure transparency and accountability in its implementation by publishing budget performance reports periodically. Most importantly, the national budget must be utilized as a living document which addresses growth and poverty reduction and impacts the life of Liberians in the 15 counties, where more than 240 Government and donor sector projects (or US$215m)are earmarked. Only then will the national budget live up to the true meaning of its theme: to drive the “Agenda for Transformation”. Only then will we have effective development in Liberia.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are that of the author.