The power of the purse is one of the most important mandates of any legislature. Through proactive involvement in the management of public resources before, during and after expenditure, elected representatives promote prudent public finance management, and thus protect the national and public interests. In order to be effective, parliamentary involvement in the budget process cannot and should not be limited to merely passing estimates of expenditure presented by the Executive but must include participation in setting national development priorities on the basis of which budgets are drawn up. This can be done through meaningful engagement in the full budget cycle including in-depth analysis of the budget and expenditure patterns by parliamentary Committees, debate and approval of budgetary allocations, and enforcement of audit recommendations.
By law, the Zanzibar House of Representatives (ZHoR) holds the power of the purse in Zanzibar. The role and processes through which the ZHoR is involved in the budget process are outlined in the constitutional and legal framework, and the parliamentary Standing Rules. Whereas the ZHoR does not have a dedicated budget committee, sectoral committees as well as the Committee of Chairpersons of the Standing Committees, play a crucial role in processing the budget before it is considered in the House. The ZHoR’s capacity to ensure that budgetary proposals and allocations match national development priorities depends on a number of factors including but not limited to access to adequate and accurate information on the financial health of the country as well as local and international trends in the economy, and ability to interpret the impact of such data on the budget.
One of the key outcomes of UNDP Tanzania’s Legislatures Support Project (LSP) relates to ensuring that the ZHoR (and the National Assembly) effectively and responsibly oversee the Government and budget activities of the Executive. At the commencement of the project in 2011, it was noted that 50% of members of the ZHoR had insufficient knowledge of the budget cycle and the related oversight process. This was also confirmed by the LSP’s Capacity Assessment of Legislative Skills and Training Needs for Members of the ZHoR (2012) and also by the LSP’s Baseline Needs Assessment (April 2013).
Due to limited specialist skills within the legislature, ZHoR almost always rely on government officials from the ministries of finance and economic planning for information on the critical assumptions and projections of the country’s finances, debt portfolio, growth projections and other economic data. This hardly augurs well for effective parliamentary oversight and, stands askance, with the spirit of separation of powers.
Since 2011, the LSP has been providing training and technical support aimed at improving the capacity of legislators and staff to appreciate the relevant constitutional and legal framework and best practice on the budget process including the interpretation and enforcement of the recommendations of the Controller and Auditor General’s reports. In 2013, the LSP supported a feasibility study and in-depth discussions on the need for an independent budget office or unit within the Zanzibar House of Representatives.
On 29 June 2013, the ZHOR Steering Committee wholly endorsed the findings and recommendations of the feasibility study thus paving the way for a formal submission to the House Service Commission for the office to be established. The study posits the following as some of the generic functions of the proposed budget office:
· Examination in detail of the Executive’s budget proposals;
· Study budget proposals and trends and where appropriate, suggest changes in the content or format of such proposals or trends;
· Prepare reports on budgetary projections and economic forecasts and options to reduce the budget deficit;
· Establish and foster such relationships with the Ministry of Finance and with other national and international organizations, involved in budgetary and economic matters;
· Provide economic forecasts that originate independently of the executive branch, interrogating underlying assumptions and risks;
· Make baseline estimates of revenues and expenditures based on current laws, as well as debt and structural deficit projections;
· Presentation of various options for the budget including spending cuts and increases, tax cuts and increases, and suggested implications of broad policy choices;
· Scrutinizing proposals for new programmes and costing of new legislation, as well as policy briefs for the new programmes;
· Monitoring and evaluation of government policies and programmes, and
· Capacity building of parliamentary staff and Members.
The establishment of a budget office will significantly improve the scope and depth of the ZHoR’s role in the budget process in Zanzibar as envisaged by Outcome II of the LSP, namely Legislature effectively and responsibly oversees the Government and budget activities of the Executive. During the 2014 financial year, the LSP will support the ZHoR in designing of the proposed office, determination of its staffing and other resources, and facilitating discussions on appropriate legislation.