National budget under spotlight

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MASERU – Lesotho’s civic groups are demanding greater involvement in the formulation of the national budget.

They say they are not happy that the government has excluded them from the budget formulation process in the past.

The civic groups made their submissions to the National Assembly’s Economic and Development Cluster Portfolio Committee on the Budget and Estimates for the Fiscal Year 2011/12.

The submissions were made either in writing to the committee or during consultative committee meetings conducted by the economic cluster.

The report on the findings was tabled in parliament on Monday.

Civic groups also queried a host of other issues in the budget such as the five percent salary increase for civil servants and the decision by the government to reduce the amount of money allocated to the agriculture sector.

The associations further took a swipe at the budget for failing to mention the evaluation of the implementation of “the previous year’s budget”.      

A pro-democracy civic group, Development for Peace Education (DPE), said the inclusion of civil society in drafting the annual budget will help the government “achieve its goals”.

“The exclusion of civil society in the budget formulation hampers the government from attaining key national policies,” the DPE said.

The Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN) said it was concerned that the formulation of the budget “is still a restricted government domain”.

“In an effort to uphold democratic participation and ownership, government should open up space for civil society and public participation in budget formulation,” the LCN said in its submission.

The current position is that stakeholders are only involved at the budget speech presentation and this practice constrains input and contribution, the LCN said.       

The Private Sector Foundation of Lesotho (PSFL) also noted that the government was steadfast in its stance not to involve the public “when drafting the budget”.

“We are concerned with the issue of the lack of consultations with relevant stakeholders during the budget formulation process,” PSFL said in its submission. 

Lesotho’s political parties with representation in parliament also asserted that the government had not attempted to create a platform for civil society to “play a significant role in budget formulation”.

“Government has not been explicit on the role to be played by civil society organisations in dealing with the socio-economic problems affecting the nation,” said the parties in their submission.    

An umbrella body for civic organisations in Lesotho, LCN also complained about the lack of consistency in the annual release of audit reports.

This, it said, was in violation of “the constitution of the country”.

“The constitution requires that there be annual reporting. The government should also act on managing issues raised in previous audit reports,” the LCN said.

Another civic group, the Development for Partners Consultative Forum (DPCF), said “there should be timely audit reports”.

In its view, the audit process played an integral role in “public financial management”.

“There should also be follow-up mechanisms on audit recommendations to improve expenditure efficiency and curb fraud and irregularities in the public sector,” DPCF said.

The Lesotho Institute of Accountants (LIA) said it was impossible to make an informed analysis as to “whether the set goals have been achieved”. 

The LCN added it was concerned with the reduced allocation of funds to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security asserting it seemed the government was departing from the objectives of “Vision 2020 on prosperity”.

“The Sadc Declaration on Food Production advocates 10 percent allocation of the national budget to agriculture,” the LCN said.

The LCN also recommended a more concerted effort in empowering “both commercial and subsistence farmers”.

The DPCF recommended that the government should take concrete initiatives to identify plans and bankable projects in support of a “renewed impetus to the agricultural sector”.

To arrest the declining trend in agricultural production, PDCF said, there should also be a follow-up to last year’s national agricultural forum whose main purpose was to find mechanisms to improve the sector.

Opposition political parties also expressed concern at the reduced amount allocated to the agriculture sector “especially in the capital budget”.

“We wonder how the country is going to deal with the declining agricultural output,” the parties said.

The PSFL said food security could only be enhanced by diversifying into high-value cash crops and establishing strong supply chains which would include “research, production, storage, processing, distribution and marketing”.

Farmers should be educated about globally desired agricultural products and the necessary infrastructure should be developed, the PSFL submitted.

Meanwhile, the National University of Lesotho (NUL) has in a similar report suggested that although agriculture is the major source of income on which 77 percent of the country’s population depends “the government does not want to eradicate poverty”.

“The budget share of the agricultural sector, especially the capital budget, does not echo the government’s intention to eradicate poverty,” the NUL said.       

Although the institution was happy with what it called a massive increase in the National Manpower Development Secretariat loan bursaries, the report says, it had reservations regarding the “management of funds”.

“There must be an improvement in the management of funds, especially in the low repayment rate of loans which is caused by the lack of detailed monitoring,” it said.

There should be in place firm mechanisms to develop a tracking system to collect these funds and a clear policy on the award of scholarships. 

The DPCF also said the five percent salary increase across the board for civil servants failed to address “issues of skills retention and efficient service delivery”.

“Government should strategically adjust increases of civil servants’ salaries with particular reference to sought-after skills,” the DPCF said.

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