Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, March 29th, 2020

National Budget as a National Priority

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National Budget as a  National Priority

The national budget is an important financial document proposed for government expenditure for one year and it is often prepared and presented by the finance minister but approved by the parliament. This document is as important as key to rescue a nation from all types of crisis due to many reasons: it enables the government to plan prioritize and manage its financial resources to support the implementation of various programs and projects that best promote the development of the country. Through the budget, the government can put into action its plans, programs and policies within the constraints of its financial capability as dictated by economic conditions. In general, a well-designed budget can help government to control corruption, inflation, unemployment, migration, social crimes and many other issues that worsen the country economy and development.
In democratic systems, there are always some more or less controversies between governments and parliaments over budget approval. In Afghanistan, this controversy has just ended today after nearly three month long pending. The newly approved budget totals 428 billion Afghanis, of which 289 billion Afghanis are expected to be spent on ordinary expenditures, while 139 billion Afghanis are allocated for development purposes. Though this budget was approved by the Senate at the initial stage, the House of Representatives had rejected due to some reasons such as being unbalanced, not properly prioritized and so on. Actually, the budget was sent for approval in November 2019 but it was rejected due to several reasons. The House of Representatives stressed that it was not matched with the principle of balanced development arguing that the budgetary document has not allocated enough money for third grade provinces. In addition, the projects which are considered for the third grade provinces are mostly related to previous years while the projects which are considered for insecure provinces are not feasible to be implemented in those insecure provinces.
In response to the critics and comments, the ministry of finance stressed that budget was made in accordance with limited resources, national priorities, ruling conditions and also with consultation of civil society representatives. Following the argument between the ministry of finance and parliament, some of the monitoring organizations such as Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) mentioned some more serious issues in 2020 budget. Firstly, according to IWA there was not allocated enough budgets for two key sectors -- education and health. Based on IWA assessment, the allocated budgets for the two important sectors of health and education have decreased compared than the previous years despite the government’s promise to increase construction of schools. “Despite increase in revenue and budget execution, the dire needs of the people have not been prioritized in the budget,” report quoted from the head of IWA, Naser Timory. “Education and health sectors have particular problems, but the necessary budget has not been allocated for their operation and maintenance.”
The second problem which was raised was the identification of 202 billion Afghanis in the contingency code while it must be kept below 3%. The amount given to contingency codes was much higher than what it should be. In previous years, the average budget allocated to the same code was 156 billion Afghanis, 119 more than the defined threshold. Contingency Codes are not as transparent as other codes and thus are more prone to corruption. The minimum consequences of corruption include wasting national funds, breaking the law, increasing the distance between government and people, intensifying internal strife, promoting violence culture and formalize extremely weak and inefficient public institutions. Therefore, the national budget must be designed in the way to extremely minimize the abuse from the national resources. Much of the national budget is financed from national income, and so must be used in the right way and for the right purposes. The third issue mentioned was weak people participation and awareness in the budget making process. However, this point was denied by the ministry of finance. According to representative of the ministry, the civil society organizations do not actively take part during the drafting process but later they make their criticisms. Anyway, the public participation and public awareness in budget making process helps to decrease the corruption in the country. People should be involved in budgeting and their views, needs and desires should be included in the national budget. More importantly, the media and civil society groups should understand that national budget is the real means to development of a nation. If the budget is not properly built and implemented, we should not expect to overcome the increasing issues such as corruption, inflation, unemployment, migration, social crimes, poverty and many other issues that worsen the country economy and development. Currently, more than 50 percent of the Afghan population is under poverty line. In order to properly address these challenges and improve the livelihoods of the people, The Ministry of Finance (MoF) should establish and implement a proper mechanism for budget transparency, justice, accountability.
In fact, the people’s participation plays a strong deterrent role for wasting more time in budget approval process and so abuses from the national resources. The public opinion is a very fair judge when there are controversies between legislative and government over such issues. Therefore, the public participation has to be significantly improved to reflect people’s views, needs and demands, the watchdog suggests, adding that this will also decrease the role of political actors, improve effectiveness and will help better implementation of projects through people’s buy-in and ownership.

Mohammad Zahir Akbari is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammadzahirakbari@gmail.com

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