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Low ranking for SL in global assessment of budget transparency

Sri Lanka has been ranked 60 among 115 counties in the world on the recent assessment of the 2013/2014 and 2016/2017 budget transparency processes.

The ranking was released on the Open Budget Survey, the world’s only independent assessment of information disclosure in public budgets, Verite Research (VR) Executive Director Dr. Nishan De Mel revealed at a media briefing held at the Sri Lanka Press Institute in Colombo on Tuesday.

“The Open Budget Survey conducted every two years. The recent assessments of the 2013/2014 and 2016/2017 budget processes have placed Sri Lanka 60th in the world and amongst the lowest ranked countries in South Asia,” said Dr. De Mel. The local component of the survey was handled by VR.

In 2004/2005 Sri Lanka scored 47 out of 100 (points), then again in 2008/2009 the country scored 67 in terms of performance. In the latest survey of the 2016/2017 budget process, Sri Lanka scored 44, just one notch ahead of Bangladesh which ended at the bottom of the South Asian countries table. Afghanistan performed far better coming in 49th position, he added.

Dr. De Mel noted that less than 10 per cent of the budget allocations are presented in Parliament at the budget speech, leaving out the rest. “The draft estimates are difficult to comprehend, spanning three volumes of about 500 pages each, and the budget speech focusses mainly on new expenditure proposals that cover less than 10 per cent of the budgeted expenditure, leaving the rest opaque,” he said. The public doesn’t receive a comprehensive idea about the whole budget proposals, he added.

In an open budget survey, budget documents, budget oversight and public participation have to be included, he stated.

In terms of disclosure of documents Sri Lanka does a little better in 2016/2017 than the previous times during the survey. Since 2015 Sri Lanka has increased the availability of budget information by publishing the in-year reports in a timely manner online. However, the country has failed to make progress in not making the audit report available to the public, producing a pre-budget statement but failing to make it publicly available and not producing a mid-year review and a citizens’ budget, according to the Verite Research report.

In terms of public participation Sri Lanka has scored 11 out of 100 only beating Pakistan amongst the South Asian countries. This indicates that the country provides few opportunities for the public to engage in the budget process.

Looking at the budget oversight in several ways, Prliament’s ability to have oversight or control over the budget execution and audit is considered quite weak. Sri Lanka scored 50 out of 100 during the 2017 survey. This is because Parliament gets involved in approving the budget but contributes very little to the formulation of the budget.

The Auditor General also performs some of the side activities of the budget. He provides adequate oversight but unfortunately in his reports in the last few years, he has given significant qualification and negative comments that are equivalent to a private company in Sri Lanka, on the budget formulation, noted Dr. De Mel.

He also stressed that the country is not responsible enough on the Fiscal Management Act. He said, “Sri Lanka’s budget related reporting is governed by the Fiscal Management Act (No. 03 of 2003). The government remains compliant with this law, despite falling short of international standards on the quality and scope of its budget reports.” There are three ways Sri Lanka can improve, by going beyond the letter of the law and implementing the Act in terms of its intended purpose; Publishing a comprehensible, non-technical budget document (citizens’ budget), providing budget related reports in a consistent format and publishing adequate information in line with international standards.

Taken from The Sunday Times

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Last modified: November 26, 2023