Fri | Feb 26, 2021

Report: Jamaica failing on Budget transparency

Published:Friday | December 4, 2020 | 12:27 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
Damien King

Jamaica is among 117 countries that have failed to reach the minimum threshold for adequate Budget public participation, transparency, and oversight, according to an Open Budget Survey (OBS) in 2019.

The revelation was made on Wednesday at a forum on the survey, which was conducted by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) in collaboration with the International Budget Partnership.

On public participation in the budget process, the country scored seven out of 100, well below the global average of 14. Countries with a similar score to Jamaica’s were Trinidad and Tobago and Nicaragua.

“The GOJ’s (Government of Jamaica) budgetary decisions – what taxes to levy, how much debt to take on, and what services to provide – affect the well-being of all Jamaicans, especially the most marginalised and their opportunities to fully participate in and benefit from the economy,” the survey outlined.

“In a participatory democracy, which Jamaica aspires to be, the State informs and engages the public on these decisions that ultimately affect their livelihoods. Jamaica’s poor assessment suggests that the state of Jamaica’s participatory democracy is wanting.”

Presenting the findings, co-executive director of CAPRI, Dr Damien King, said it was important for the Government to make some kind of pre-budget statement for the public to scrutinise ahead of the formal proposal.

He said that there are no channels for Jamaicans to have any input in Budget formulation, noting that citizens see it for the first time when it is tabled in Parliament by the finance minister.

Financial Secretary Darlene Morrison, who participated in the webinar, disagreed with the study that pre-Budget information was not available to the public.

“Our pre-Budget statement is the Interim Fiscal Policy Paper – the midyear paper, which is legislatively due six months after the start of a fiscal year and the legislation indicate what is to be included in that document, and among those things is what is being planned for the coming fiscal year,” she explained.

While conceding that the budget call had not been published, Morrison insisted that the Interim Fiscal Policy paper was published “and therefore we think that is a major oversight in this assessment to say we do not have a published pre-Budget statement”.

The study also failed to capture additional information made available to the public such as Jamaica’s medium-term debt-management strategy, Morrison charged.

Monique Graham, researcher at CAPRI, argued, however, that based on the International Budget Partnership standards, the Interim Fiscal Policy Paper report did not meet the requirements and, therefore, could not be used as the pre-Budget statement.

“It mainly contains information about the fiscal year in which it is published and not necessarily about the upcoming year,” said Graham, noting that there were no policy discussions about the upcoming year.

However, the study pointed out that Jamaica updated its initial assessment in 2019 and has increased its transparency in the budget process with an average score of 46 out of 100.

The assessment of the Government’s performance was based on 145 characteristics of the budget process and information availability surrounding it, first conducted in 2019, and has been updated to reflect its current performance in 2020.

While acknowledging that the Auditor General Department’s audits were “impressively comprehensive”, King said that it would be helpful if more public enterprises were on its annual list for auditing. He also suggested some kind of systematic follow-up to see if recommendations made by the department in previous years have been enacted.

Jamaica scores moderately in terms of transparency in fiscal matters.

King said Jamaica’s scores put it near the median in terms of the global average.

Recommendations to improve the openness of the budget process

• Publish the budget circular (the Government’s pre-Budget statement) at least one month before the actual Budget proposal is submitted to Parliament.

• Provide in The Citizen’s Guide to the Budget information on channels of communication for the citizenry to provide commentary.

• Provide more detail and disaggregation in the Appropriations Act (Budget) by including Estimates of Expenditure, which are disaggregated by who spends the funds, the purpose of the spending, and the nature of the expenditure.

• Develop channels during parliamentary Budget debates for citizens to share contributions and questions on the Budget.