Oversight of the Afghan National Budget backtracks over the last four years, survey finds

A webinar held after Afghan launch of OBS on May 3, 2020 to discuss how to implement the assessment’s recommendations. Thousands of people viewed the live streaming on Facebook and posed questions to the panel members. Photo credit: Integrity Watch

Ibrahim Khan Jabarkhail, Integrity Watch Afghanistan

Afghanistan failed to improve its global ranking in the Open Budget Survey’s (OBS) biennial assessment that was published nationally and globally level last Thursday. The country’s public participation score stalled at 15 out 100, its transparency improves from 49 to a reprehensible 50 and its oversight dropped from 43 to 31.

The failure to publish one of the eight key budget documents known as the pre-budget statement which discloses breakdowns of revenue and debt of the Executive’s Budget Proposal, and the failure to produce a citizen’s version of key budget documents kept the transparency score stagnant. In a Webinar held this Sunday after launch of the survey, a deputy to the Ministry of Finance, however, pledged to improve transparency of the budget in the current and upcoming fiscal year. Habib Zadran the Finance Deputy of the ministry stated, “We have improved on point on transparency but I recognize that fact we could have done more.”

Afghanistan’s score decreased to 31 from 43 in the Budget Oversight component of the OBS 2019. The score reduced because Parliament did not produce reports to the public on its oversight of the implementation of the National Budget and in addition because Parliament and the Supreme Audit Office (SAO) do not have any formal mechanisms to engage with civil society. Mr. Mujib Shirzad, Deputy at the SAO that spoke the same webinar, stated, “The SAO has now established some engagement protocols as part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) after this assessment was completed. We have planned to speed up public engagement in the next two years.”  Also, in the past two years, the Ministry of Finance failed to engage with Parliament and the SAO to enhance their oversight involvement in the budget implementation.

Furthermore, the need to establish an Independent Fiscal institution (IFIs) that could advise the parliament on fiscal affairs was not taken into account during the last two years. Mr. Sayed Azeem Kabarzani, a member of the budget and finance commission of the Lower House, who also spoke at the webinar, explained how the house scrutinized contingency codes and limited executive powers in the fiscal year 1399 (2020). The SAO did not have the required independence standards including on the appointment of its head when the survey was completed and this has been partly rectified since that time.

Moreover, the score of Afghanistan did not improve in the public participation component of the Open Budget Survey. It remained at a low level of 15/100. Ms. Froozan Rasuly, Deputy Director of Equality for Peace and Democracy, a Kabul-based civil society organization, stated, “The score did not improve because the government did not hold any meaningful consultations with the people so that their needs would be reflected in the National Budget. It is not possible to collect people’s view during a half a day consultation and report a whole year at a press conference.” In addition to the MOF, the SAO and Parliament did not engage with civil society and the people during the implementation and evaluation phases of the National Budget.

With two years passed after the OBS 2017, the government has still not taken the public participation component seriously. For instance, the recent dismembering of the Ministry of Finance and the amendment of the National Budget 2020 because of Covid-19 occurred without any consultation with civil society organizations.