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The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) will be hosting the second annual conference of the African Network of Parliamentary Budget Offices (AN-PBO) from 16 to 17 August at Parliament. This follows the successful hosting of the first conference at Parliament last year in August, which served as a platform for the consolidation of the PBOs on the continent.

The objective of this conference, which will bring together several African parliamentary budget offices, including those still being formulated, is to champion the inception of PBOs in African parliaments as a means to improve their fiscal oversight over their countries’ budgets.

“The objectives of the AN-PBO are to strengthen the network, international cooperation, sharing of best practices, peer-review, bench-marking initiatives and other areas of mutual support. On the whole, the aim of these offices is to support improved parliamentary fiscal oversight on the African continent,” according to the Parliamentary Budget Office’s Conference blurb.

This conference will be attended by parliamentarians, experts, interest groups, Parliamentary Budget Offices’ personnel, and officials of various Parliaments whose line of work has a bearing on the work of the PBOs.

“This conference will be attended by representatives of the PBOs from various African countries. This includes the Chairpersons of Portfolio and Select Committees, representatives of the Offices of the Presiding Officers and the Office of the Secretary. Representatives from the budget offices and international organisations from the rest of the world will also be in attendance,” says the conference introductory material.

The South African Parliamentary Budget Office was established in 2013 in terms of section 15 of the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters, 2009 (Act no. 9 of 2009). Before its formation, questions were asked whether the four committees on Finance and Appropriations in the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces charged with the constitutional task of approving our country’s budget were approving a budget that they already knew. Many economists argued at the time that the absence of a PBO in South Africa lowered the legislative discourse on the management of the public purse in South Africa. This criticism is now a thing of the past.

Ever since its inception, the South African Parliamentary Budget Office, headed by Prof. Mohammed Jahed, has grown to become one of the critical pillars of the fiscal oversight mandate of our Parliament. It now provides Parliament with independent, objective and professional advice and analysis on matters related to the budget and other Money Bills, so that Parliament can fulfil its fiscal oversight functions effectively.

Among other things, the Parliamentary Budget Office presents to Members of Parliament different economic and monetary scenarios to determine the appropriateness and adequacy of government fiscal policy in relation to the country’s growth priorities, expenditure framework and debt forecast. This data and analysis equip them with the knowledge to determine the responsiveness of the budget to the strengths and weaknesses of the fiscal framework.

It is hoped that if African Parliaments embrace the need and the principles of PBOs, they can give Members of Parliaments of various nation states with prudent advice so that they can make precise and objective decisions on the social value of their countries’ budget. If that is achieved and sustained over time, it will restore public trust in their country’s legislative framework, because it will ensure that there is efficient allocation of resources and the facilitation of the delivery of public services.

But most of all, PBOs can ensure that African Parliaments are responsive to the needs of their people. At best, parliaments can play a pivotal role in aligning their budgets to the African Union’s 2063 Vision and Action Plan of “The Africa We Want”, which aims for shared prosperity and wellbeing, unity and integration of African continent and its people.

Abel Mputing
14 August 2017