The budget making process as currently fashioned is flawed. It is full of redundancies that waste time and money without increasing accountability, fairness or transparency. Despite the constitution 2010 foreseeing this weakness and creating the Commission for Revenue Allocation (CRA) to solve it, the ideal situation hasn’t been met. CRA, the key independent professional body supposed to coordinate and moderate the process has been sidelined.
The National Treasury has usurped the responsibilities of the commission. This opens room for bias since it is a department working directly under the ministry of finance and in extension the Executive. The Executive is an interested party competing for funds alongside the judiciary and legislature.
Of greater attention is that the constitution explicitly leaves out any mention of National Treasury in matters concerning budget making and funds apportioning. Either through intentional or unintentional labours, the legislature has supported the executive in sustaining this blatant anomaly.
Two reasons that may be postulated for this are: 1) Complexity. The matter may have proven difficult to remodel especially given there is no ready examples to benchmark upon and therefore, it’s been better to stick with the old understood procedures; or 2) Fear. There is possibility that the legislature has fears for an independently working professional body and therefore preferred to make legislation favoring the National Treasury as the custodian of the process.
Such fear could be driven by genuine concern that the body is new and may lack expertise and experience to manage the process effectively. Again, there is possibility of sheer resisting change. It’s well known that the legislators still try to make laws to favour their remuneration despite the powers to do so having been clipped.
Whereas, other constitutional commissions have on many occasions sought interpretation and protection from the High Court or Supreme Court when they felt their mandates were being undermined, CRA has this far been contend with a narrowed duty of recommending vertical and horizontal share of funds. The ‘recommendations’ are not even final since they are to be further debated by the Senate.
Consequently, even as we may wish to solely blame the Legislature and Executive for edging out CRA on matters budget making, on its part CRA has also not shown need for securing its full mandate. The questions to them become: is it because you are 1) Incapable of professionally collecting collating and consolidating budget proposals; or 2) Fear for your jobs and/or backlash. You dread that you may rub those who interviewed you the wrong way -or if in unfortunate case the Court favours National Treasury over you- they may revisit and unfairly be slashing your own funds requests?
Unfortunately for CRA, where it seeks survival – by avoidance of confrontation with National Treasury, it losses favour with the public. It has come out in discussions, people complaining that some of the independent commissions and offices need to be merged and others even dissolved altogether.
Without casting aspersions, we can demonstrate the benefits of remodeling the process as follows,
1. Increase transparency
The existing process pretends to foster openness by having windows for public participation. But there is deliberate effort to keep public participation at the minimum. National and County Treasuries, and their respectively assemblies have a lot of vested interest in the budget. They have thus excessively and unnecessarily jargonised the budgeting language thereby locking out citizens’ input.
Furthermore, the participation is treated as a favour and not a right. This means that a citizen’s ideas can be rejected without any explanation. The expectations are the new body would be more eager engaging people than an old established one that has thrived all along in obscurity.
2. Promote accountability
Similarly the existing process pretends to foster answerability by providing for filing of quarterly implementation reports and Annual Development Plans (ADPs); as well as periodic reports by the Controller of Budget. However, these reports are in formats that conceal rather than reveal information.
Whereas, the matter of improving information dissemination by CoB is an issue of its own, the new body would provide another avenue of overseeing, monitoring and evaluation. Also details of supplementary budgets are usually concealed; however, a neutral agency may reveal the consequences of such activities.
3. Reduce effects of self interest
It’s not a secret that National Treasury as constituted, is an apparatus of the National Government and of the National Executive. Unfortunately, the systems have not delineated the National Executive and National Government from State Organs. Ideally all independent commissions and offices are State Organs. The difference is that to be in National Government entails being under a ministry -as the case of National Treasury. State Organs entities are inter-governmental; therefore, the independent body would be more objective when dividing revenue vertically and horizontally. It can also play a better arbitrator if the two sides dispute their share.
4. Increase efficiency and effectiveness
Looking at the functional design of CRA, it is becomes obvious that it is the agency that is suited to manage the budgeting process. It is independent – not a national or county entity, has no vested interests, has powers to seek consultancy services and recruit competent staff. The National Treasury doesn’t enjoy some of these liberties for instance, its workers must come in through the Public Service Commission.
When CRA gains full authority on deciding allocations, all departments will improve on their acts since evidence of misusing resources will result in a deserved budgetary reduction. Again the unwonted tussling among different arms of government such as, the judiciary blaming executive or legislature for underfunding will be removed.
The county governments will have greater control over their local budgeting processes and be more confident of predictable allocations and disbursements from the exchequer.
The main function of the National Treasury is to seek ways of raising funds to service budgeted costs. Relieving it of the other activities such as producing national Budget Review and Outlook Paper (BROP) will enhance its prudent resource use.
5. Intensify conformity to constitution
The values of equality, equity and fairness can only be achieved practically. This means some offices would need to relinquish some (or all) of their traditional functions to new offices to meet set standards. The constitution in its wisdom, while distributing functions between national and county governments, refrained from assigning either side the custodianship of budgeting.
Article 221 talks of the Cabinet Secretary in charge of Finance tabling [only] national government’s estimates to National Assembly; PSC and Judicial Service Commission (JSC) bring theirs independently. Unfortunately, County governments’ estimates are overlooked bringing about an ambiguity. Thus Articles 221 to 224 may need refining to set the record straight.
The National Treasury may cite statutes from parliament to justify their power over the budget making process, but looking at the wider scheme of things, they are merely encroaching.
Edwin Libasya Musonye
Technical Communication Practitioner
Working with Document Point