Transparency in public spending

Dhaka,  Thu,  17 August 2017
Published : 12 Aug 2017, 20:41:42
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Editorial

Transparency in public spending

Overall, the process of accountability on the part of the government in the matters of its spending, developmental or otherwise, is still quite weak. The oversight institutions are found not that much enthusiastic about performing their jobs in accordance with the law for a variety of reasons, including resistance coming from some - overt or covert - powerful quarters among policymakers
Transparency is the least liked word in the official circle in this part of the world, for opaqueness creates greater scope for indulging in irregularities, financial or otherwise. The government, too, is found to be least interested in ensuring transparency in its fiscal policies and measures taken in the annual budget. And statutory regulatory orders (SROs) that are issued and made effective from time to time throughout a fiscal year also run afoul of transparency.  But that should not be the case. A research paper, presented late last week at a programme organised by the private think-tank, the Policy Research Institute (PRI), underscored the need for maintaining sufficient transparency in the government's fiscal management issues, particularly in budgetary matters. It also mentioned the findings of a recent Fiscal Transparency Report of the US State Department where it was noted that Bangladesh "has been failing to meet even the minimum requirements of fiscal transparency".

The government does not make public enough information relating to fiscal policies and measures taken in the national budget. Even the Finance Minister AMA Muhith, who was present at the PRI programme, did not contest the fact. A case in point, as mentioned in the PRI's research paper, is the adoption of the supplementary budget. Here, some government agencies generally spend in excess of their allocations first and then they seek authorisation from parliament to this effect. Such post-facto approval process does not make any sense, for the lawmakers find little interest in discussing the issues concerning excess expenditures by the government agencies.

Lack of transparency in fiscal matters has been an inherent and deep-rooted problem. The government, at times, finds this particular situation quite helpful when it comes to mobilising some extra revenues or giving relief to some sectors without approval of parliament. The SROs do also permit the National Board of Revenue (NBR) to do so, any time within a fiscal year. This practice has been in vogue for decades and the people or their elected representatives do not have any role in it.

Overall, the process of accountability on the part of the government in matters of its spending, developmental or otherwise, is still quite weak. The oversight institutions are found not much enthusiastic about performing their jobs in accordance with the law for a variety of reasons, including resistance coming from some - overt or covert - powerful quarters among policymakers. Transparency in fiscal management, accountability and governance are all integrated issues. None of these can be ensured in isolation. The state of affairs with these issues has reached such a pass that deep reforms are now imperatives for bringing about necessary changes in the situation.

However, reforms are easier said than done - and are always very painful. Most stakeholders tend to abhor reforms. The government also prefers avoiding or skirting essential reforms on different pretexts, thus shelving those in fear of adverse reactions from various quarters, including electorates ahead of general elections. The recent deferment of the new value added tax (VAT) law -- a piece of legislation purported to reform the entire VAT system - is a glaring example. The government has invited troubles for itself with a view to appeasing the vested interests among both businesses and electorates. This is, in fact, a manifestation of weak governance. It is, thus, critically important to improve the quality of fiscal operations first in order to ensure transparency, accountability and good economic governance through unfailing improvements in public resource management.      

 
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Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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