Experts have highlighted the need of reforms on budget transparency, and citizen engagement and oversight in budgetary process of the country for effective and efficient mobilization of public resources. At a virtual dialogue ‘Fiscal openness practices, challenges and opportunities in Nepal’ organized by Freedom Forum on Sunday, Secretary of the National Planning Commission (NPC) Kewal Prasad Bhandari, the keynote speaker, said there are several rooms for reforms in public financial management system of the country with Nepal’s budget transparency score of 41/100 in the Open Budget Survey (OBS-2019) – an independent, comparative and fact-based research instrument.
Noting that Nepal has a public participation score of 22/100 and a composite oversight score of 48/100, he said highlighting the gaps in the openness of budgetary systems of the country. “A transparent approach to budget planning and implementation strengthens the relationship between public institutions and the people meant to be served”, he said, adding it helps decision-makers prioritize the use of scarce public funds.
Fiscal transparency matters for effective fiscal management and accountability, knowing accurate pictures of their finances including the costs and benefits of policy changes and potential risks of public finances and improving reliability of the country’s fiscal plans, he added. Referring to Nepal’s OBS-report, he highlighted the need to make the availability of budget documents and information in a timely and comprehensive manner and produce a pre-budget statement and a citizen budget in the internationally-accepted standards.
“In order to improve budget oversight by parliament, the legislative committee should examine the budget proposal and publish the report with their analysis”, he further recommended. According to the report, Nepal’s budget transparency ranking stands t 67th out of 117 countries assessed in the survey that used internationally accepted criteria to assess public access to central government budget information, formal opportunities for the public to participate in the national budget process; and the role of budget oversight institutions such as the legislature and auditor in the budget process.
Also speaking on the occasion former acting Auditor General Sukadev Khatry demonstrated gaps in the flow of critical budgetary information and its direct bearing on token citizen engagement in the budgetary process. He urged the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to exert pressure on the government to place robust monitoring practices in raising revenues without allowing leakages. Transparency advocate Raghav Raj Regmi also called for CSOs to undertake independent budget analysis and evaluation to find out accountability loopholes in the budgetary process. “CSOs should carry out study to establish evidence on the budgetary flow and spending”.
SUSASAN Project team leader Hem Tembe highlighted the need to identify spaces for civic engagement in the development and governance process at local level and advocate for new laws and policy for widening the civic space based on the empirical evidence. “As ward structure is so far the authorized mechanism for initiating the planning process, capacity building interventions should also be designed targeting ward-level people’s representatives for effective planning and implementation”. Climate finance expert Madhukar Upadhyay advocated for more transparent and accountable spending of public money when the post-COVID-19 situation of the country seems to be alarming with shrinking revenue resources, mainly remittance and tourism. “We need to develop the citizen budget of every sector to help spend the scarce public money in an efficient manner”, he said, urging the CSOs to ask questions for preventing unauthorized expenditure.
Freedom Forum Executive Chief and OBS researcher Taranath Dahal highlighted the need of forming CSO working groups to continuously analyze budgets and advocate for advancing budget openness reforms to cherish the country’s dream of open and accountable public financial management system. Taking part in the discussion, Media Advocacy Group’s Executive Director Babita Basnet underscored the need to bring budget transparency and citizen engagement related narratives to the grassroots level people who are always at the receiving end.
Other speakers including Anjali Thakali from the World Bank, Sajana Maharjan from The Asia Foundation, OBS researcher Krishna Sapkota, Tanka Aryal from FHI360, Kedar Khadka from GoGo Foundation, PFM expert Krishna Awasthi, Dila Dutta Pant from Parliament Support Programme/UNDP, open budget researcher Anirudra Neupane, political scientist Sanjeeb Ghimire, Deepak Shrestha from SOLVE-Nepal, Right to Information campaigner Nodanath Trital and accountability activist Posta KC shed light on setting up independent fiscal institution for undertaking routine empirical studies on budgetary affairs and also coordinating citizens’ inputs throughout the budget ecosystem. As many as 60 participants including CSO leaders, public financial management experts, open government advocates, researchers and reformists took part in the dialogue programme.