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  Policy Roundtable on ĎAdvancing Public Participation and Accountability in the Budget Processí
 
   
 
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Mr. A S M Mahbubul Alam Budget Processes: Bangladesh Perspective
   
   
   
  OCTOBER 01, 2012  | MORE NEWS
   
  Roundtable
   
 

Honorable Home Minister MK Alamgir is delivering his speech

   
 

Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha (BNPS) in collaboration with the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA) held a half-day policy roundtable entitled Advancing Public Participation and Accountability in the Budget Process on 1st October 2012 at Hotel Ruposhi Bangla, Dhaka. A number of parliament members, government/non-government high officials, members of parliamentary standing committees, civil society representatives, and journalists attended this policy roundtable. They discussed about different issues regarding budget process, its bottlenecks, and ways of effective implementation of budget in Bangladesh and how to encourage people from every sphere to take part in the process to ensure a stronger accountability in the budget formulation and implementation process.

Dr.Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir, MP and honorable minister of Home Affairs of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh was present in the roundtable as chief guest and gave his valuable speech. The policy roundtable was chaired by Ms. Rokeya Kabir, Executive Director of BNPS. Barrister Manzoor Hasan, Institutional Advisor, IGS BRAC University moderated the discussion.                        
                                          
Ms. Rokeya Kabir, Executive Director (BNPS), welcomed all participants by giving her introductory statement. While explaining the objectives of the seminar she said that, Budget is one of the most powerful tools in the institutional mechanism to secure peoples rights and expectations. So, It is very important to increase the public, specially women and other marginalized groups, participation in the budget making and execution cycle that goes on round the year. She further explained that holding this policy roundtable was to better understand the preparation and execution of the budget procedure in Bangladesh so the given understanding of the institutional mechanism can be conveyed to the citizens in hopes of creating a budget allocation better comprehended by the people, reflecting their expectations from the government. In order to achieve this, she believed it would take cooperation and improvement on the parts of the civil society and Ministries of Health, Education and Women Affairs.

Following a brief descriptions of the humble beginnings of the policy advocacies of BNPS in 1993 focusing on gender sensitive education studies and gender responsive budgeting, Ms Rokeya Kabir proceeded to discuss the focal points of the policy roundtable.

She said that we have national Constitution and international conventions like CEDAW, and agreements as the main guidelines. Using those guidelines, challenges of Budget execution should be discussed alongside the means of efficient use of the resources involved followed by the procedures by which participation of marginalized groups, minorities and women can be ensured. She concluded her introductory remarks by inviting the participants to discuss on budget preparation and implementation procedures and analyze whether the state resources, foreign investments, grants, project aid, donor fund is being used properly and effectively.

Ms. Nuzhat Jabin, Programme Manager, Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA):

After Ms. Kabir's remarks Ms. Nuzhat described the background of ANSA and how it is working on issues related to budget through various seminars, workshops, researches, and regional country action plans along with some like-minded organizations like Institute of Government Studies, BRAC University, BNPS and BRAC.

She then expressed her expectation that through discussion the policy roundtable will generate answers to the following key questions:

  • Are there effective channels through which citizens can participate in the budget process through engagement with their elected representative
  • What are the ways for making the budget process more inclusive so that the aspirations and priorities of the most marginalized are reflected in the budget?
  • Is there room for refining/strengthening existing structural and institutional processes for citizens’ participation in the budget process
  • What is the role of the civil society organizations in ensuring greater budget accountability?
  • What is the role of the elected representatives in accomplishing their oversight responsibilities especially regarding participation in the budget process
  • What kind of research support would parliamentarians require to help accomplish their oversight functions?

A S M Mahbubul Alam, Joint Secretary, Parliament Secretariat:

Mr. Mahbubul Alam proceeded to explain the budget procedure currently applied in Bangladesh. The budget formulation in Bangladesh is a cyclic procedure which continues throughout the whole year. The levels of formulation were stated briefly before being explained further; preparations are made at the root level which are then forwarded to their designated ministries. A legislative approval is required before the actual execution and implementation. It is then forwarded to the finance ministry where the given budget is allocated and distributed back to the root level. After the allocation an audit report on the implementation is reviewed and then passed on to the President who in turn presents it in the parliament. There are basically two types of budget formulations: a) Income and b) Expenditure budgets.

The construction of said formulations occur as a balanced budget or and unbalanced budget consisting of surplus and deficit. The finance for the budget comes from the combined contribution of banks, donors and public taxation and savings. Prior to the current Medium Term Budget Framework (MTBF), incremental Budget was applied about 10 years ago which focused on the budget of the previous year leaving it irrelevant to performance. The MTBF currently applied ensures the efficient use of the limited public resources. All ministries resort to prioritizing for mid-term. The allocation for the resources is done according to the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. Resource indications are given to the ministries to assess the requirements and the surplus is sent to the Planning Commission for development project initiatives which would be feasible.

An annual Financial Statement is released accordingly with Budget Management Act passed in 2009. The budget is formed between June 31st to August 31st. By September 31st forms are completed and by October 31st all required information is collected. A statement is given by 25th November and by the 20th to 22nd January the implementation checking is started and the finalized annual development program completed by 28th of March leading to preparations for the next term’s budget. The MTBF was initiated from 2005 by the Budget Monitoring and Resolution Committee with the following goals set in to the task:

  • Creating a budget Circular
  • Preparations for budget execution
  • Agreement of Planning Commission and Finance Division
  • Finalizing the budget circular
  • Relieving the Estimates
  • Presentation at the Parliament

In his presentation he also adds that-''Although we can't make any changes in revenue budget but in development budget people can voice their aspiration through their representatives in the parliament.

Dr. Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director, Transparency International Bangladesh, was the first of the discussants to forward his views. In his opening statement he mentioned how budget transparency is a worldwide problem and talked about the benefits of the Open Budget Movement. According to Dr. Zaman, accountability for budget must occur during the budget formation and during its execution. His deliberation continued bringing to view the issues of having a specified budget for minority groups and increasing the strength of the processes at root levels to increase public participation. He then addressed the “black money legalization” problem stating that there is still room for improvement in current plan of action. Although institutional systems are capable, the committees focus their business interests than public benefits. Alongside this he stated that the lengthy mechanisms through which they act lose most of the benefits of their actions in the process. His statement closed with remarks that effective use must be made of the information provided to the government by various organizations such as CIG and that the application of non-conventional tools must be increased since they are proven to be more effective.

Dr. Muhiuddin khan Alamgir, Minister of Home Affairs of Peoples Republic of Bangladesh.

Chief guest Dr.Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir stated  that- ''Only 27% of national income is allocated in the development budget which is not sufficient at all. To increase the development budget the budget makers should deeply analyze revenue budget to find more effective ways to use the country resources. Another big loophole in every years national budget is that the amount of previous years income or expenditure is never mentioned. However, on the question of proposed budget on district levels, he replied-''Its not constitutional since Bangladesh is a unitary state. To do that a constitution correction will be needed but, I don't think that is necessary. But we have to try to strengthen the local government financially since they don't have their own income source and solely depends on the national budget. So, we have to arrange some ways to ensure their self-sufficiency. 'He firmly urges that-''We have to take initiatives to attract more local and foreign investors by offering congenial business environment and tax holidays. ''He argues that-''We don't consider an amount of undisclosed money as black money. We have encouraged people to pay tax and create scopes so that money can be invested in various sectors to nourish our national economy. Even after so many years of our liberation, we still couldn't build a strong taxpaying culture in our country. We have to raise awareness and encourage people to pay tax to get better governmental services.''
Chief guest of the roundtable also emphasized on the following points:

  • District wise budget plan is unnecessary
  • The consolidated funds cannot have external deposits
  • Representation of budget is unclear because it is presented as a whole instead of the sum of its parts
  • Defense Ministry budget is always brief and unclear
  • Income and expenditure in previous years must be published
  • The focus of expenditure must be shifted towards income to understand government mechanisms
  • When nominal budget increases, revenue budget also increases which leaves room to increase development budget to increase which is necessary
  • Government statement must be sent to parliament faster than it is currently sent
  • An audit act is required to sustain objections made towards budget which is currently in progress
  • District budgets should be acquired through its link ministries
  • Strengthening the Upazilla Parishad Requires it to generate income and be self sustainable
  • Ministry Budgets should be made transparent
  • Black Money legalization is required to keep the nominal money in the country’s liquid money circulation
  • Initial investment must be tax free to encourage investment which causes legalized taxation in next fiscal year
  • The understanding of “Black Money” must be made
  • Illegal income for anybody must be spent legally to keep the money in the economy

Professor M. A. Mannan, MP began his discussion by stating the approximately 30% of the development budget remains unaccounted and must be clarified. Levels and sources of income must be validated and understood to facilitate effective expenditure. Initiatives should be taken to make the root level more accessible to their appointed Member of Parliament. He emphasized the Local Government Support Project must be monitored for their revenue. The control of the projects however must fall to the Government, with improvement in its implementation by the local government. The Projects from the Upazilla Parishad and Local Government must be specified with implementation plans of the budget.

Professor Dr. M. Amanullah, MP started by stating that peoples participation can only occur through improved lines of communication between the Member of Parliament and Upazilla Parishad. In order to accomplish this there are two primary factors the means of transportation and condition of the connecting roads. Aside from this, the MPs must be harder working for his people and be closer to of his voters. In response to create public awareness an incentive must be offered to mobilize people so information can be distributed among them.
Ms. Rasheda Begum Hira, MP following Dr. Amanullah’s statement mentioned the importance creating stronger roots for democracy and ensuring its safety. She continued her statement by assessing that government centers at grassroot level are inaccessible and unreliable to the people and to ensure people reaping the benefits of their government services a more personal approach as ones initiated by NGO’s must be taken. Public awareness should be raised through popular advertising and the monitoring and evaluation must be empowered. In her views all of this can be accomplished through on simple notion, patriotism. Through patriotism she believes that people can become more participatory in government proceedings and government accountability would increase.
Dr. Kaniz N Siddique addressed the issue of public opinion expression in the budget proceedings which ideally should be through the PRSP, reflection of government election manifesto and consultation of people for and opinion. She added that the budget should be coordinated with the PRSP consistently showing goals by individual ministry planned projects which would be undertaken. She proposed that a particular sanction be made toward strengthening Local Government consisting of an individual budget allocation and transparency for the proceedings. Lastly she raised concerns that the currently explained state of affairs for the budget should be converted to laymen terms for better understanding of the general people and effective steps should be taken to raise awareness through means of advertising, radio transmission or whatever effective form of media might be.
Professor Md. Ali Ashraf, MP was the next of discussant to express his views. He started with the notion that the amount of taxes is what leads to budget planning and that the only way for the budget to be accountable is through the transparency of the government proceedings. In order to bring about such changes and consequences the primary objective would to spread better education systems so as to empower the root levels. Committee regulations must be reinforced to ensure better utilization of funds. Awareness must be spread to people that they are they owners of their government not the other way around and they must be aware of their existing resources. Parliament proceedings must be kept relevant and the means of transparency and accountability lise through the parliamentary proceedings. He also mentioned the 2009 budget management act in which it is stated that the finance ministry must review the budget every 3 months on its performance. Audit Laws must be stated, implemented and strengthened. The last concern he expressed was in regard to rigidity to tax collection and drastic focus should be taken to employ a means of taxation on base level odd jobs.
Md. Asaduzzaman, MP followed the speech starting with the notion that the budget in Bangladesh is based on philosophy. He furthered this claim saying that the budget must reflect the cause of liberation; to create an empowered state. He further mentioned that the budget must reflect the people’s income and expenditure. His statement ended noting three problems he considered i) that were present in our first constitution as follows ii) creating wealth by fossil fuel extraction,  iii) necessity of skilled workers and equal development of all regions in the country.
Mr. Bazlur Rahman Chief Executive Officer BNNRC in his turn spoke data analysts provided to certain MP’s that conveyed the problems to their assigned MP which seemed to be quite beneficial and should be advanced. He followed up saying that a parliamentary handbook for budget must be made available for the people to promote better understanding. Lastly he discussed the benefits of the use of Community Radio as a form of media, a monitoring and evaluation report on this would be published within the next two months.
Ms. Anna Minj, Representative of BRAC Community Empowerment Sector had the following points to convey:

  • Views of the participatory budget was misconstrued
  •  Participatory budget must meet expectations
  • The dialect of the Budgetary CD’s should be intractable

Ending her statement with information that group-wise information dissemination has been undertaken and expressing the benefits of community radio.
Ms. Nilufar Begum, Retired Joint Secretary was the last of the speakers. Information of government service availability must be spread more widely through effective use of popular media and education must first be emphasized in order for people to understand budget implementation.

Mr. Ashikur Rahman, MP said: ''When Bangladesh was born we all dreamed of a nation free of poverty.But we have very limited resources with a very big population and the uneven distribution of budget money is making it worse. On top of that we don't have adequate capabilities to use the existing resources like our natural gas, coal etc mining sectors.''

In her closing remarks and vote of thanks, Ms. Rokeya Kabir talked about some of the important issues plaguing the general discussions held. Firstly she talked about how our government must be decentralized to extend its roots to the furthest corners which in turn would require a certain re-distribution of budget funds. She also emphasized the income generated from foreign currency through the cheap labor of women workers focusing on the importance of women’s role in the field. Lastly she pointed out the importance of proper planning before tackling any of the issues and implementation forwarded.

Recommendations Made by the Discussants:

  • The accountability in the parliamentary culture should be practiced thoroughly with proper guidance from the existing constitutional rules, laws, and international conventions.
  • Previous years total income and expenditure amount should be mentioned in the budget.
  • Defense budget should be written and explained more elaborately.
  • The government should explore natural resources in the country to increase self-sufficiency.
  • A sign board can be put in front of the UNO offices mentioning the amount of allocated money and the development sectors where it will be used.
  • Adding black money in the national budget should be stopped.
  • There should be more television and radio programs featuring how one can get access to any governmental services broadcasted in prime times. 
  • Along with the main budget a supplementary with simple language, explaining all the technical and economical terms can be published, so that general people can easily understand it.
  • Community radio services can play a great role in the rural areas by broadcasting programs related to budget. They might use the local dialect in these programs.
  • A well-formed audit map should be implemented to develop the budget audit process.
  • Quarterly basis a survey can be run throughout the country on people’s participation in budget accountability.

Name of the Speakers:                        

  • Dr. Muhiuddin khan Alamgir, Minister of Home Affairs of Peoples Republic of Bangladesh.
  • Ms. Rokeya Kabir, Executive Director, Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha (BNPS).
  • Barrister  Manzoor Hasan, Institutional Advisor, IGS BRAC University.
  • Ms. Nuzhat Jabin, Programme Manager, Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA).
  • Mr. A S M Mahbubul Alam, Joint Secretary, Parliament Secretariat.
  • Dr. Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB).
  • Prof. M A Mannan, MP, Member, Committee on Ministry of Health and Family Planning.
  • Ms. Rasheda Begum Hira, MP
  • Dr. Kaniz N Siddique, Consultant, UN Women & World Bank.
  • Ms. A H M Bazlur Rahman, Chief Executive Officer, NGOs Network for Radio and Communication ( BNNRC)
  • Ms. Anna Minj, Director (BRAC)
  • Ms. Nilufar Begum, Retired Joint Secretary, GoB.
  • Prof. Ali Ashraf, MP, Member, Committee on Ministry of Finance.
  • Mr. H. N. Ashequr  Rahman,MP. Chairman, Committee on Ministry of Planning
  • Mr. Muhammad Serajul Akbar, MP, Member, Committee on Ministry of Women and Children Affairs Ministry
  • Mr. Mohammed Amanullah, MP, Member, Committee on Ministry of Health and Family Planning
  • Ms. Shamima Akhtar, Division Chief (Power & Energy), Planning Commission
   
   
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