The budget briefing is a recognition of the important role CSOs play in holding the executive accountable for how public resources are utilised.
The budget briefing, the first of its kind is coordinated jointly by the Vanuatu National Parliament and Vanuatu Association of NGOs (VANGO) with the support of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Office in Fiji. The briefing is both a recognition of the importance of CSOs in the process of public finance oversight and one piece of a much larger puzzle which has seen increased capacity of the Vanuatu National Parliament to scrutinise the national budget and engagement of civil society on budget and public finance oversight.
In Vanuatu, where the impact of Tropical Cyclone (TC) Harold is still felt and within the context of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there is a greater responsibility for all that work in the development space to advocate for and uphold core principles of good governance. Numerous speakers at the workshop also reminded the audience of the need to join hands in facing those multiple layers of crisis.
Speaking at the opening of the Budget briefing, the Second Deputy Speaker for the Vanuatu National Parliament, Edward Nalyal said, “I believe today’s presentations will assist you, representatives of CSOs, in strengthening your ability to analyse budgets and participate effectively in playing an integral role, not only in policies and service delivery but also in constructing a more open and participatory democracy.”
Nalyal also commended the excellent collaboration between Vanuatu National Parliament research staff and researchers from the Parliaments of Solomon Islands National Parliament and New Zealand and the Australian Federal Parliament in producing the budget briefs that were presented to CSOs.
Globally, in other larger parliaments, a budget costing and information service is sometimes provided by a Parliamentary Budget Office (BPO), however in the absence of a similar set up in Vanuatu, UNDP continues to provide support through the provision of an agile set up of using existing staff from different units within the Secretariat as well as pooling staff from other regional parliaments.
The same practice has been extended to other countries in the region.
Launching the Vanuatu Citizen Budget Guide, Shirley Abraham, the Vice Chairlady for the VANGO, echoed these important messages.
“Looking at public finances, our journey took us from a rapid appraisal of the aid relief available in Vanuatu to respond to TC Harold and the global pandemic. From there, we develop a much larger consultation and a comprehensive mapping of the budget process which is summarised in the Vanuatu Citizen Budget Guide. The Citizen Budget Guide offers access to key public finance information to all citizens and CSOs as it summarises and simplifies the major announcement and sectoral overview of the budget document.”
She added, “Government and Parliament cannot ‘build back better’ on their own, we need to work together. Citizen Budget Guide is a tool to present budget in a simple way that can transform the culture of accountability and transparency of government that will lead to better delivery of public services to improve the wellbeing of our being. VANGO is looking forward to further the public finance management work through a partnership approach with Government and Parliament.”
Levan Bouadze, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji Resident Representative, in his opening address highlighted that with a shift in mobilising large economic relief packages as a response to COVID-19, there is a greater need for scrutiny.
“In the Pacific, the human, social and economic crisis continues to unleash havoc and add to the devastation caused by TC Harold. It seems difficult to understate the task Government has set for itself in 2021 when drafting the national budget. Every citizen and inhabitant of the Pacific has been impacted, some disproportionately. Men, women and youths have lost jobs and revenue and are required to provide extended care for their families and communities.” said Bouadze.
“Civil society is a source of independent information on needs, priorities and current conditions of diverse large and small communities, groups and individuals. Beyond the crucial information you possess and collect through your work, you are also the holders of lessons learnt on past budget measure efficiency. You understand current initiatives successes and failures. You document the expectations and challenges of fellow citizens including the most marginalized. To be effective and relevant, a national budget should be guided and respond by these very needs, priorities and context.”
He added, “National budgets impact everyone, regardless of your status in society: when there is lack of access to budget information, or when you as citizens of Vanuatu do not actively engage in budget processes, it opens the door for inappropriate or questionable decisions to be made.”
The Briefing for CSOs on the Vanuatu National Budget was made possible through UNDP’s Effective Governance projects namely, Pacific Parliamentary Effectiveness Initiative funded by the Governments of Japan, New Zealand and Australia and the Strengthening Pacific Public Finance Management and Governance project funded by the European Union.
The Parliament of the Republic of Fiji has been implementing a Budget Briefing for CSOs since 2017 with a growing global consensus that an active engagement of citizens, civil society, and the media in budget processes is essential....