April 30, 2020, Kabul, Afghanistan—Amidst concern over weak oversight of the government’s response to the corona virus outbreak, the Open Budget Survey (OBS) 2019 results, released today in Kabul, indicate stagnation in the reform of public finance management. The OBS results show that Afghanistan’s National Budget transparency rating improved only one point from 49 to 50 out of 100, its public participation stalled at 15 out of 100 and its oversight declined from 43 to 31 out of 100. The Reform backtracked despite strong commitments by the Afghan government, when the survey was launched two years ago, to significantly improve how the Afghan people’s taxes and donors aid money was spent.
Sayed Ikram Afzali, Executive Director of Integrity Watch, stated, “The despite governments promise and our continuous advocacy for budget transparency and public participation throughout 2018 and 2019, the Afghan Government failed to keep these promises.” The openness of the Afghan public finances and in particular the National Budget is not at all sufficient to respond to the needs of the Afghan people, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, he added.
Sally Torbert, Program Officer at the International Budget Partnership, stated, “The objective of the Open Budget Survey that started in 2006 is to compare government practices to international standards to help governments to improve transparency, public participation and oversight of national budgets.” She continued, “While Afghanistan has improved since it was first assessed in 2008, it lost an important opportunity to sustain its momentum over the last two years, and we hope in the coming years we see a return to progress.”
As OBS 2019 is being launched, the Afghan Government is amending the National Budget 2020 in response to the COVID-19 situation. However, there has been no public consultation including with the civil society groups and nor has it published any information about the intended amendments. “This casts doubts over the ability and willingness of the Afghan government to prevent waste and misuse of funds allocated to address the situation imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic” Mr. Afzali stated.
The transparency score of Afghanistan has improved only one point because the in-year reports were published on time unlike 2017 when they were produced late. However, the Afghan government was not able to produce one of the key budget documents known as pre-budget statement for the public. It was produced for internal use only. Also, the government did not publish disaggregated information on revenues and detailed information on expenditures is missing from the budget execution documents. The government does not provide good reporting on debt, especially the composition of debt, across all budget documents. This will be a major challenge if revenues fall and debt becomes more expensive in the coming years because of the COVID crisis.
The oversight indicator evaluates the oversight performance of Parliament and the Supreme Audit Office. The cumulative score has fallen to 31 in 2019 from 43 in 2017. Parliament’s score decreased from 43 to 22 and the Supreme Audit Office’s score decreased to 50 from 67. Parliament’s score decreased because it could not produce and publish any public reports on the implementation of the budget. Furthermore, it does not hold any proper hearings prior to the tabling of the executive budget proposal by the government. The Supreme Audit Office’s score decreased mainly because of its weak independence in terms of its budget and the appointment of its head.
Public participation score stalled at 15/100 which means that the government provided only a few opportunities to its citizens to be engaged in the budget process. The government did not hold meaningful consultation with the citizens and did not meet the criteria of the global initiative for fiscal transparency (GIFT) principles on public participation.
About the Open Budget Survey (OBS):
The OBS biennial survey posing 145 questions to assess transparency, public participation and oversight of National Budgets and currently covers 117 countries. In Afghanistan, donors like the EU conditions its aid on Afghanistan improving its ranking on this index. Afghanistan was assessed since 2008 onwards. For more details about the survey please visit this page: https://www.internationalbudget.org/open-budget-survey/
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