Follow the money: how we helped establish a watchdog in Mozambique

Democracy can help contrast corruption and enable fair distribution of resource by making information about government accounts available to the public. This is why we are working with the parliament of Mozambique to help them monitor spending.

The country is developing very rapidly by tapping into a wealth of natural resources such as gas. Revenues must be accounted for and used wisely to improve the lives of Mozambicans.

WFD is uniquely placed to deliver high quality technical support in this field:

  • Our work to help establish parliamentary budget offices in the Western Balkans is one of our greatest achievements to date and encouraged other countries to adopt similar initiatives.
  • We partnered with the Scrutiny Unit in the Westminster Parliament and the Financial Scrutiny Unit in the Scottish Parliament to share UK experience providing technical analysis.

The importance of setting up a body to monitor public money in Mozambique was identified in various evaluations, especially following the International Monetary Fund debt scandal that emerged in 2013.

Initially, the office will focus on providing technical analysis of the Budget as well as studies on national economy issues including public debt.
At the centre of our approach is encouraging learning between similar institutions that WFD helped establish over recent years.

Practices and expertise from countries such as the UK are not all immediately replicable and, for new watchdogs to succeed, a change in culture is necessary. This requires time and support from other institutions nationally and internationally.

“Many parliaments in the world have this technical support mechanism and this leads to positive parliamentary performance in the oversight of public finances, so I think that Mozambique is not an island and has to be part of the world.”

Moisés Mondlane, Technical Cabinet staff

In April, we brought together the Serbian Parliamentary Budget Office and the technical unit responsible for economic analysis in the legislative assembly of Mozambique for a workshop in Maputo.

Comparing notes with Serbian colleagues was something the Mozambican experts found very useful. Abdala Luís, a local trainee with the technical unit commented: “Our colleague from Serbia has shown us the main ways to produce quality analyses that will impress in a positive way our MPs and make us a credible unit. We learned that infographics are the best products to show our MPs; they do not have much text, instead focusing on graphics and some description that is appropriate for MPs’ use, as Members do not have time to read much.”

No matter where in the world you are working on financial analysis, similar challenges emerge. As Nenad Jevtovic from the Serbian parliament explains: “A common problem is how to attract the attention of MPs”. Crunching numbers submitted to parliament for approval in a timely manner is also very important to the success of newly established budget offices.

Serbian researchers helped their peers by suggesting a possible way forward: “It is very important to work step-by-step. In the first five months [of the programme], the Technical Cabinet should develop basic reports and infographics on budgetary analysis. After five months trainees will start to prepare detailed analysis on fiscal and economic issues,” Mr Jevtovic explained.

“Our goal is to provide technical support to the Committees to effectively carry out the public financial oversight of the Executive,” commented Mr. Atanásio Chacanane, Director of the Technical Cabinet. “The Technical Cabinet will provide better service to Members and its impact will benefit Mozambican society,” he continued.

Moisés Mondlane, staff of the Technical Cabinet added: ‘This unit will help MPs make sure that allocated resources are being used properly. Many parliaments in the world have this technical support mechanism and this leads to positive parliamentary performance in the oversight of public finances, so I think that Mozambique is not an island and has to be part of the world.’

The WFD Mozambique mission, which helped establish a Parliamentary Study Centre in 2011, is now focusing on support for Mozambican parliamentary staff to help legislators follow the money and in this way, help all ordinary Mozambicans benefit from economic growth.

(Photo: Nenad Jevtovic, a researcher from WFD supported Parliamentary Budget Office in Serbia, shares his experience providing analysis to MPs with counterparts in Mozambique.)
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Scrutinising Government spending in Serbia

(Above: Parliamentary Budget Office Researcher, Nenad Jeftovic, presents data on women’s employment and gender budgeting to MPs at a meeting of the Women’s Parliamentary Network)

Ensuring taxpayers money ends up where citizens think it should requires time.

Analysing the numbers, comparing levels of spend between departments and debating where you think the money should go is a lengthy process, but one that is essential for effective governance.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy is committed to supporting the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia address this crucial problem through the Parliamentary Budget Office that was established in November 2016. A fundamental problem when it comes to adopting the budget in Serbia is the lack of time that MPs have to review and debate the budget proposal. The need for quick to digest information and analysis is at an all-time high with previous budgets being adopted in just seven days.

The 2016 European Commission Progress Report on Serbia’s accession to the EU indicates that “frequent use of urgent procedures, last-minute changes to the parliamentary agenda, limited support for independent regulatory bodies…undermines parliamentary effectiveness”. It is easy to understand how the European Commission comes to this conclusion given the Governments track record.

Despite OECD recommendations that government’s draft budget should be submitted to parliaments no less than three months prior to the start of the fiscal year, the Serbian Government submitted the 2017 budget proposal to the Parliament on 2 December and it was adopted on 10 December 2016.

(Above: PBO generated infographic capturing fiscal tendencies)

Serbian MPs had only 8 days to analyse a 1,200-page document and accompanying opinions from the Serbian Fiscal Council.

Even for the most developed parliaments in the world, which have support from research and analytical experts, this would present a significant challenge. This is why the analysis provided by the Parliamentary Budget Office to MPs was so important. Providing timely analysis, in a digestible manner contributed to a more informed debate in the parliament, whilst helping MPs to better understand what it means for the citizens they represent.

Within 36 hours from receipt of the proposed budget, the PBO prepared the analysis with information on key government policies. It also developed a comparison between the 2016 and 2017 budgets, highlighting the biggest funding variances across various ministries, agencies and programmes. Such a summary was not available to MPs in previous debates and was first delivered to the Committee on Budget, Finance and Control of Spending of Public Funds in time for their session on 4 December.

It was evident from the interaction with MPs that the provided analytical support was much valued. Aleksandra Tomic Chair of the Committee on Finance, Budget and Control of Public Funds, stated upon receiving the analysis, “Thank you for the great effort to do this important work in time for [our] committee session”.

(Above: Example infographic created by the PBO on salaries in Serbia in 2016)

During the week the budget proposal was debated, the PBO provided over 20 supporting documents and analysis to MPs. On 4 December, the budget analysis was sent to all 250 MPs prior to the plenary debate that took place later that day, as well as published on the PBO website. The researchers received 15 requests from MPs in response to the analysis and provided answers to MPs during the debate. Since the analysis provided is solely based on facts and figures, MPs were able to use them to formulate their own political opinions on the budget proposal. The PBO also prepared infographics on revenue and expenditures in the budget proposal, public debt analysis and analysis of key fiscal indicators to make the information more digestible in a short time-frame.

Gorana Gajic, an independent MP and deputy member of the Committee on Finance, Budget and Control of Public Funds also stated “You have presented the budget proposal to us better than the finance minister. I don’t have to chase for information and data presented in the papers. Now I know I can turn to the PBO for information”.

While the long-term benefits to citizens in Serbia cannot yet be fully quantified, it is evident that if the PBO did not exist, both MPs and the public would be left with less information on the proposed budget and where their money is being spent.  Deputy Speaker in the NARS,  Veroljub Arsic, explained “through this project the NARS will not only support the oversight of public spending, but will also communicate with users of budgetary funds about the plans for their execution.”

Aleksandra Tomic, Chair of the Committee on Finance, Budget and Control of Public Funds added at the press conference marking the establishment of the PBO “I would like to thank WFD for implementing such a project. It is refreshing for the new committee members to work with PBO experts which are not politically biased.”

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Tunisian Parliament saves 70m Dinars from review of sugar subsidies

The Tunisian Committee responsible for oversight of public expenditure highlighted the unnecessary provision of sugar subsidies to industry as a result of one of its first enquiries. Members of the Committee used information supplied by the Tunisian Court of Audit to successfully argue for an end to sugar subsidies for corporations. The resulting policy change led to a saving of 70 million Dinars of public money. The Committee developed its approach based on the knowledge and experience of the UK Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) , shared by the Westminster Foundation.

Hon Hassen Laamari MP, Chair of the Committee for Administrative Reform, Good Governance, Anti-Corruption and Oversight of Public Expenditure that led the enquiry, said, “Now, only sugar that goes to households is subsidised. This allowed the government to make savings of 70 million Dinars which can be used elsewhere to improve the quality of services”. The Westminster Foundation has worked with this Committee since it was established in 2015. Based on its requests, WFD has provided information about and shared experience of the UK’s PAC through a series of workshops and targeted visits to Westminster. One of the key factors in the success of the UK PAC is its relationship with the National Audit Office – equivalent of the Court of Audit, Tunisia’s Supreme Audit Institution. This was picked up by the Tunisian Committee early on and has enabled it to achieve this recent success.

Working together on financial scrutiny

“Before the revolution and the establishment of this committee there was no relationship at all between the Court of Audit and the parliament” MP Laamari explained during a recent visit to the UK Houses of Parliament. He referenced his predecessor Hon Sofiene Toubal’s experience with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy programme in Tunisia as critical in encouraging this new relationship between parliamentary institutions. Going on to refer to the UK visit by a delegation from the Committee in 2015 facilitated by WFD, MP Laamari said, “This new methodology of work came as a direct result of the last visit. [The delegation] learnt about the benefit of having a direct relationship between the supreme audit institution and the parliamentary committee charged with the oversight of public money. When [the delegation] came back to Tunisia they took the initiative to contact the Court of Audit and establish this working relationship”.

The Committee is currently working with the Court of Audit on five enquiries including the government subsidies on sugar for industry and individual households. The relationship with the Court of Audit and the auditors that work in the institution “is very important in reality, even more important than just reading the reports” Mr Laamari explained, “as when you meet with auditors you can ask them specific questions and they give you more knowledge about the topic”. He added, “The relationship with the Court of Audit allowed the Committee to get updated information [on the sugar subsidy policy], so that when members of the Committee interacted with the government during plenary sessions their questions and comments were evidence-based”. It was this improved relationship that revealed to the Committee the unfair approach that treated corporations in the same way as individuals when it came to the cost of sugar and led to 70 million dinars being released for other government projects.

Beyond sugar subsidies

The revision to the policy on sugar subsidies, that came into effect on 1 January 2017, will benefit Tunisian citizens through the redistribution of public money to other vital services. The Committee chair, MP Laamari, wants the work of the committee to be broader still. He explained how he felt the impact of the enquiries into organisations that use public money stretches beyond the current five enquiries. Media interest already generated by the Committee into publicly funded organisations, Mr Laamari hopes, will create a positive impact on the quality of management in those and other public organisations.

Greater scrutiny of public spending is a fundamental role for any parliament. WFD’s support to this Committee has enabled its current and former Members to understand the structures, relationships and knowledge used by the equivalent in the UK (the PAC), to successfully drive continual attention to value for money and good management of public money in the UK. The buy-in and commitment of current and former members of the Tunisian Committee and the whole People’s Representative Assembly is moving Tunisia closer to the type of inclusive and effective governance that will bring real benefits to the people of Tunisia. In the coming months WFD will provide on-going support to the Committee while it concludes its first five enquiries and pushes for further policy changes that benefit Tunisia as a whole.

(Photo: Members of the Tunisian Committee responsible for oversight of public expenditure visit the UK National Audit Office to find out how they work with the Public Accounts Committee.)
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FEAO: Following the money

(Above: Victor Maziarchuk, the FEAO Chief Economist, live on VRU TV Channel talking about the draft Budget 2017.)

In a country battling against corruption and facing conflict in the south-east, Ukrainians are relying on their Verkhovna Rada (VRU) to conduct robust and effective financial scrutiny. “In these times of economic hardship, it is equally essential to know the amount of public spending by the Government and the efficiency of that spending,” says Victor Maziarchuk, Chief Economist of the Financial and Economic Analysis Office (FEAO).

With support from Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Government of Germany through GIZ, the FEAO was established to support the oversight function of the parliament. It provides the VRU with financial analysis that is so urgently required to hold the government to account for the austerity measures being implemented.

Although only set up earlier this year, it has already made some startling findings. Having analysed the Ministry of the Interior’s budget, Mr Maziarchuk says, the Office found that “eight per cent of funds allocated to the Ministry were spent for purposes other than designated for this institution”.

To avoid diverting public funds in 2017, the FEAO is currently supporting the 2017 budgetary process by providing neutral expertise and assistance to committee members and staff from the VRU Budgetary Committee and nine other committees in conducting budget scrutiny. Once the budget bill is passed, the Office will continue to monitor and analyse public expenditure.

The expertise provided by the Office also supports individual MPs in conducting their oversight work. This underpins a meaningful dialogue between Parliament and the Government in regard to accurate forecasting and the appropriate use of public funds.

“Cooperation with the FEAO helps me to better understand the budget and, as an MP, to take informed and qualified decisions on effective allocation of public funds,” says Victor Kryvenko, Deputy Chair of the VRU Budgetary Committee. “I am using the 2016 Budget Diary prepared by the Office to study the 2017 budget bill that is being considered by Parliament. The Diary also helps me in assessing the Government’s initiatives to be funded from the state budget next year”.

It is not just members and staff who benefit from the FEAO; civil society activists and journalists grappling with financial issues take advantage of the analysis too. Through miscellaneous communication activities the Office has been actively engaged with interpreting the draft budget 2017, contributing to greater awareness-raising, public discussion and transparency of the budget process in Ukraine.

“As a journalist writing on economic matters, I used to lack timely, objective and complete information regarding the state budget,” says Channel 5 reporter Olha Kalynovska. “This made it difficult for me to prepare high-quality, professional media stories on this topic. Thanks to the FEAO’s materials, I have come to understand the budget document better, and the entire budgetary process has become more open and transparent. I’m glad that the Office often uses the platform of live broadcasting offered by our TV channel to promote such openness and transparency”.

The parliament’s ability to scrutinise where citizen’s money is going is crucial for delivering oversight and transparency of public spending. The Governments focus on on-going fighting in the south-east, EU accession and dealing with the economic crisis, means support for financial scrutiny is of great importance.

“The FEAO programme is committed to ensure that the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is a capable, accountable and responsive institution with regard to financial oversight and scrutiny, providing useful perspectives on economic sustainability, development and growth,” says WFD’s Country Representative Halyna Shevchuk. Although a number of macroeconomic reforms have helped stabilise the economy, more challenging restructuring lies ahead.

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Moroccan widows to benefit from Parliament’s achievement

“Socio-economic vulnerability is always lurking for Moroccan widows and their children – they are precarious and they are vulnerable. We have to support these women,” says Sayeeda Idrissi, Vice-President of the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc (ADFM). Thanks to the work of MPs on Morocco’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), funds are now available to offer assistance.

Until recently the money spent on widows had been subsidising fuel costs – a policy which many in Morocco felt had not helped the most needy. The problem faced by politicians was that slashing the subsidies would result in deep unpopularity. But the subsidies were swallowing up 20% of public spending and contributing to an alarming public spending deficit.

In 2015 the dramatic fall in oil prices offered an opportunity to change the policy, after multiple previous unsuccessful attempts at reform. Even the price fall, though, was not enough to shift the terms of the debate in most MENA countries. Yet Morocco succeeded in removing them altogether. What made it different?

parliament Morocco - flickr - axel“We largely helped in achieving the change,” says Dr Berroho, a member of the budget committee which   Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) has worked closely with. “Morocco was able to make the change because the parliament provided a platform for discussion. Citizens understood this would improve their lives and the reform became possible, thanks to the parliamentary debate.”

WFD is delighted to have helped pave the way for Parliament’s growing profile. Supporting, in clearly specified ways, the Speaker in his reform agenda for the House of Representatives, WFD shared British expertise on financial scrutiny and helped win consensus for the introduction of a PAC. Its first report shone a light on the fuel subsidy issue, which led to the successful policy change and opened up public money to be spent elsewhere. Politicians on all sides of the political debate in Morocco agree that vulnerable widows are a priority.

“Sometimes heirs will not share the inheritance, and in the worst cases they lose their jobs and end up living in poverty,” Mrs Idrissi added. “They are not responsible for their state of living but without assistance their children risk becoming delinquent.” Under the Government scheme launched in September 2015, widows with schoolchildren are now eligible to receive monthly payments of up to 1,050 Dirhams (£75.72) – equivalent to nearly 50% of the Moroccan national minimum wage. “The funds providing direct support to women widows in Morocco will certainly have a positive impact on those who did not have any financial support before,” says Khadija Rebbeh, ADFM’s National Coordinator. Implementation remains a challenge, however. “The issue is that as the government implements this law, it should facilitate procedures to get the funds,” she adds. “It’s very complicated to help women benefit from the funds. The government should also provide statistics of the women who have benefited.”

Moroccan Government Begins Providing Stipends to Needy Widows

It’s not just widows who will benefit from this change once it is fully implemented. Other new areas of public spending which have resulted from the ending of fuel subsidies include investment, roads, increase monthly students’ scholarships and increase of funds allocated to scientific research . More broadly, the PAC’s work will help improve the quality of public spending across all areas of government. The committee’s second report, for example, investigates spending on tens of thousands of associations which had not previously received any scrutiny.

Support for the Public Accounts Committee forms part of WFD’s wider work with the Moroccan Parliament, including the implementation of the strategic plan, the development of public policy evaluation and the work of the Equality Committee in the House of Representatives. We are also set to assist the House of Councillors’ Research Centre and the House of Councillors’ reform agenda. Doing so will help the Parliament meet citizens’ expectations following the 2011 constitution, which granted it significant new powers of oversight. Our work directly ties in with WFD’s broader goals of improving policy, strengthening accountability, boosting representation of marginalised groups and fostering citizen participation in the countries where we operate

As Dr Berroho adds: “The new constitution calls for good governance and scrutiny of public funds in cooperation with quality auditing. It is all part of the new system we are trying to achieve.”

Featured image: Flickr
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A Parliamentary Budget Office for Serbia

“The system of public finance, particularly since the beginning of the global economic crisis, has once again become the centre of attention,” says Veroljub Arsic, Chairperson of the National Assembly of Serbia’s Committee for Finance, State Budget and Control of Public Spending. “Even though we have institutions like the state audit institution that controls the legality of spending, it is not enough.”

Mr Arsic, who is also the Serbian Parliament’s Deputy Speaker, is well aware of the need of parliaments across the Western Balkans region to integrate oversight of public spending and revenue-raising. His committee is receiving help in its work thanks to the establishment of a Parliamentary Budget Office in Serbia – the only country in the region to have such an office after Greece. The establishment of the PBO is supported through a three-year project of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, with assistance from the Scottish Parliament in implementing the project.

(Above: Staff from the Parliamentary Budget Office visit the Macedonian Parliamentary Research Institute)

The PBO, which is staffed by four researchers, is expected to provide much-needed research support to the committees, with the goal to assist them in overseeing the government’s fiscal and economic policies. “The will to control public fundraising as well as spending those funds is getting bigger,” Mr Arsic explains. But until now MPs have found it hard to conduct the scrutiny which is increasingly expected by voters. “We have great expectations from this Office, because it should secure help and support for MPs during the budget process, especially the process of reporting and finalising the budget.”

It’s not just Mr Arsic and his committee which is expected to benefit from improved financial scrutiny. The programme aims to replicate the expected success of the PBO in Serbia across the region. Mr Arsic has already presented the newly-established body to 40 parliamentarians from the region, as part of the parliamentary conference organised by WFD-hosted Network of Parliamentary Committees on Economy Finance and European integration. The conference passed a recommendation that parliaments in the Western Balkans should look to establish similar offices.

(Above: Serbian MPs meet with staff from the Financial Economic Analysis Office in Ukraine to share best practice on establishing a Parliamentary Budget Office)

All eyes are now on Serbia with regards to financial oversight. MPs from the region will be looking to see what the benefits of such an office are for the MPs and for the citizens. Financial scrutiny matters because each year parliament allocates billions of euros to implement policies and programmers which affect the lives of citizens. It matters because it ensures that there is a clear link between setting the budget and the operational plans of the governments. It assesses the value for money provided by government services and it investigates matters of public interest. It addresses financial issues raised by constitutes or community groups. Financial scrutiny in parliament matters because at the end of the day it provides a challenge from the MPs on how resources are utilized by the government and what is the value of their impact.

The establishment of the PBO office in Serbia contributes to the development of democratic culture and practices and overall good governance. The PBO will contribute to the extent to which parliament holds government institutions to account and to their constituents.

It is these principles of effective oversight which Mr Arsic now hopes can be replicated across the region. “Our parliament will always have an open door for regional cooperation,” he says. “I have no doubt the office will be a success and we can share that success with our friends and neighbors.”

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Towards effective financial scrutiny in Tunisia

“It’s the first time in the history of Tunisia that we have a parliamentary committee that is charged with the oversight of the management of public money,” Sofiene Toubal, chair of the financial oversight committee, says. “We believe the fruits of these achievements will come in the near future.”

The committee in question – on Administrative Reform, Good Governance, Anti-Corruption and Oversight On The Management of Public Money – was created by the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP) with the support of Westminster Foundation of Democracy (WFD).

WFD’s work on financial scrutiny in Tunisia began, though, at the end of 2014, when the Parliament was drawing up new rules of procedure as part of the country’s broader constitutional settlement.

Mr Toubal recalls: “Most of the members of our committee didn’t have enough knowledge about the Westminster system of parliamentary financial oversight that relies on a committee of oversight of public money management which cooperates with the Supreme Audit Institution. The benefit we got was providing this basic knowledge to the committee and its members.”

Tunisia flags jpg squareAfter WFD’s first induction workshop, which took place in December 2014, a small group of its members sought the creation of a committee which would focus on this work. This was achieved at the beginning of 2015.

But the Committee’s first year saw its work focus on other tasks, and not the oversight of public spending – the core tasks of a traditional PAC.

“Unlike the committees responsible for oversight of public money in Britain and Scotland,” Mr Toubal explains, “our Committee is charged with additional tasks – especially the fight against corruption, administrative reforms and follow-up of looted money and smuggled and disposed assets.”

The length of the Committee’s title reflects the breadth of its responsibilities and the prioritisation decisions which had to be made during its first year. “The weight of these tasks, because of their political importance and public opinion, made it more difficult for the Committee to establish its priorities, at the expense of the oversight of public money management,” Mr Toubal adds.

During this period, WFD provided the Committee’s members with insight into the key functions of a PAC and the benefits which can result to the management of public money.

Committee Clerk Khalifa Ouriemei recalls: “WFD’s diverse activities, which included a study visit to the British Parliament and the Scottish Parliament allowed learning about the British leading experience in the field of the oversight of the public money management”.

“There were also ,a number of targeted workshops dedicated to emphasising topics very tightly linked to cooperation with the Supreme Audit Institution (the Cour des Comptes, equivalent to the UK National Audit Office)”.

“They also focused on the methods of benefiting from the audit reports and the conducting of inquiries. These are indeed very important topics for the development of the work of our committee, leading towards good management and respects of the principles of good governance and transparency and effectiveness.”

MPs are now fully aware of  the positive benefits of their relationship with the Supreme Audit Institution and have mastered the technical aspects of undertaking inquiries from the experiences of the UK, Scottish, Moroccan and Indian PACs.

The chair of the Committee, the rest of its members and its clerk were all convinced that something needed to change. MP Hela Hammi was among those who has played an important role in reforming the ARP’s financial scrutiny.

IMG_7431(2)“We’ve managed to include all of these achievements in the current by-laws,” she says, “and now myself and a group of MPs will submit a draft amendment to the by-laws to bring out the oversight of public money to a specific committee.”

This, Ms Hammi confirms, is necessary “because the combination of oversight with administrative reform and anti-corruption efforts reduced the time dedicated to oversight”.

The Tunisian committee was established along more traditional Public Accounts Committee lines. Meanwhile, on April 4th, MP Jamila Ksiksi, rapporteur of the Tunisian PAC, reported proudly on her Facebook Page that the Tunisian PAC have agreed with the Cour des Comptes to collaborate on the oversight of public expenditures. Four inquiries are set to begin work soon.

This and future inquiries will make a big difference to Tunisia, it’s hoped. The PAC’s work is expected to help optimise the use of public money and reduce Tunisia’s national debt, benefiting public service users. It will reduce corruption and underutilisation of public assets, two problems believed by many in Tunisia to be at the heart of the country’s public sector reform targets.

Helping strengthen parliaments’ ability to conduct financial scrutiny forms a big part of WFD’s ongoing work in the MENA region and beyond. We aim to improve accountability in the countries where we operate – and in the process contribute to the UK’s drive against corruption.

This is an area which Tunisian politicians are committed to addressing, as the creation of the Tunisian PAC shows. Mr Toubal puts it best:

“We believe that we cannot talk about good governance of public money without an effective parliamentary financial oversight.”

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Ukrainian politicians ‘buddy’ with British MPs

(l to r: Jeffrey Donaldson MP; Sergei Alieksieiev MP; Yuri Levchenko MP; Philip Davies MP; HE Natalia Galibarenko, Ambassador of Ukraine to the UK; Sir Gerald Howarth, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ukraine; Natalya Katser-Buchkovska MP; Jonathan Djanogly MP)

Westminster Foundation for Democracy helps share understanding about British politics overseas, but it is not the only source of information for MPs working in other parliaments.

“I’m a big fan of Yes, Minister,” Yuri Levchenko, a Ukrainian MP visiting the Houses of Parliament, said earlier this week. “This visit is a great opportunity to see how it really works on the inside.”

The antics of fictional politician Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey, the unruffled civil servant who carefully guides him through his time in power, are “satirical”, as Mr Levchenko pointed out. But the British MPs present at the Ukraine All-Party Parliamentary Group where Mr Levchenko was speaking freely accepted the programme contains more than a grain of truth. For British MPs, APPG Chair Sir Gerald Howarth joked, Yes, Minister is an “instruction manual”. WFD prefers to offer visiting MPs insight into British parliamentary practise through more formal methods – including the ‘buddy’ scheme linking British parliamentarians with Ukrainian MPs taking place this week.

This approach reflects WFD’s commitment to exploring new ways of innovative programming. Mr Levchenko, whose party has five MPs in the Verkhovna Rada, has been partnered with Jeffrey Donaldson, a WFD board member and Democratic Unionist Party MP. Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly was accompanied by Natalya Katser-Buchkovska, a member of the Rada’s Sustainable Development Committee; this week she attended sessions of the Commons’ Energy and Climate Change Committee. Sergei Alieksieiev is shadowing Philip Davies, the Shipley MP, who has taken Mr Alieksieiev to Bradford Crown Court. “I am very grateful for the chance to exchange experiences,” Mr Alieksieiev told the all-party group meeting. “I would like to stress that there is not so much populism in the British parliament; all the decisions are made professionally.”

Such a remark could not be made without attracting self-deprecating comments from the British MPs present. They were full of praise for the Ukrainian MPs, applauding their resolve in dealing with a political and security crisis. “We want to help them get where they want to be,” Mr Donaldson said. Mr Howarth spoke of the Budapest Memorandum and Britain’s “responsibility to support Ukraine at this difficult time”. Stephen Pound, a Labour MP, described Ukraine’s significance in terms of both its size and its symbolism. “It’s important we realise there is a great future of collaboration with Ukraine as a European nation,” he said. “It is an extremely and increasingly important country.”

The British political commitment to Ukraine is reflected in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s three priorities for the country, as described by Jason Rheinberg. These are returning Ukraine to its sovereign borders; helping Ukraine reform; and strengthening its democratic institutions, “an extremely important part of that road ahead”. WFD seeks to contribute to this. Our programme, in collaboration with GIZ, has established a Financial and Economic Analysis Office which can help strengthen the Rada’s financial scrutiny work. “I would like to thank WFD for helping us,” Natalya Katser-Buchkovska said. “There are a lot of laws which need economic analysis, and now we have a chance to receive really high quality expertise. This is really valuable for us.”

Improved financial scrutiny can help expand the Rada’s role in anti-corruption, an important part of the present government’s reform efforts – and a point of political contention reflected in the comments of the Ukrainian MPs present. Their debates on this issue and others will continue in the Rada. As they do so, the FEAO and WFD stand ready to support their work.

“We’ve found a group of members of the Rada who are extremely motivated but working in difficult circumstances,” Anthony Smith, WFD Chief Executive, told the group. WFD aims to work with the Rada’s staff “as they seek to refocus their support to MPs for many years to come… We want to be there for the long-term.” Just as WFD has helped individual MPs develop relationships with their British counterparts, so we aim to harness British expertise to help strengthen the Rada.

As Mr Howarth put it: “The new members of the Rada are very well motivated, it’s been most encouraging for us. The future of Ukraine rests on some of those who are here today, and your colleagues in Kyiv.”

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Financial scrutiny explored in North Africa

One of the thematic areas of parliamentary strengthening Westminster Foundation for Democracy has developed in recent years is financial scrutiny – the topic of an event which took place in Tunis in March 2016.

The March 12-13th event brought together MPs and officials from three North African countries: Tunisia and Morocco, whose parliaments receive support in this area from WFD, and Mauretania.

The technical discussions explored in detail the fundamental principles which underlie scrutinising public spending, including both ex-ante budget oversight and ex-post financial oversight.

Margaret Hodge, the former Chair of the UK’s Public Accounts Committee, offered her insights into what makes financial scrutiny work effective.

Attendees also benefited from the experience and expertise of Jeremy Purvis, the peer and former Member of the Scottish Parliament, also contributed by providing input about financial scrutiny in a devolved context. Lord Purvis has presented and facilitated discussions on this topic in Tunisia before. Dominique Boily, an academic from the Canadian School of Public Administration, also contributed to the session.

Two MPs from the Moroccan Parliament spoke about their work. WFD has supported the development of a Public Accounts Committee in Morocco – the first of its kind in the Arab world.

Tunisian MPs and around 20 staff interested in the legislative process also attended. WFD’s programme in the country focuses on strengthening the committee responsible for the oversight of financial expenditure.

The conference concluded with a declaration of ten recommendations. These were lodged with the Speaker of the Tunisian Parliament and have subsequently been accepted in Tunisia – an excellent outcome from a successful event.

A parliament’s ability to scrutinise where citizen’s money is going is a step in the right direction for oversight and transparency, something WFD is ready and able to promote in parliaments around the world.

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WFD and National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia launch new Parliamentary Budget Office

Serbian MPs’ ability to scrutinise public spending will be boosted from today by the launch of a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO).

The new body is the result of a longstanding collaboration between the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia (NARS) and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) on parliamentary strengthening work across the Western Balkans region.

Today marks the start of the PBO’s development as an Office providing analysis for MPs on Serbia’s economy, the Government’s Budget’s proposals, and other legislation which deals with fiscal issues. After an initial capacity-building period working together with partners from the Scottish Parliament, responsibility for the PBO will be transferred from WFD to the NARS.

Deputy Speaker of the NARS and Chairman of the Committee for Finance, State Budget and Control of Public Spending, Mr Veroljub Arsic, said:

“Starting today, the National Assembly and the Committee for Finance, State Budget and Control of Public Spending have another tool in conducting financial scrutiny – the Parliamentary budget office. The National Assembly has great expectations from this Office, because it should secure help and support for MPs during the budget process, especially the process of reporting and finalising the budget.”

The Rt Hon Tricia Marwick MSP, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, said:

“The robust scrutiny of public finances is a key function of any parliament and it is a measure of the success of our Financial Scrutiny Unit that it is being used as a model by the National Assembly of Serbia. I am pleased to see this positive outcome from the Scottish Parliament’s work with the National Assembly and I hope that our two Parliaments will continue to cooperate in the years to come.”

WFD has worked closely with the Serbian Parliament in the past, first through a two-year programme in 2011-13 and then through the Network of Parliamentary Committees which has strengthened cooperation across the Western Balkans.

Now WFD’s staff will be based in the Serbian Parliament itself as they seek to achieve the establishment of the PBO, develop a more robust system of financial oversight, and increase capacity of the NARS’s staff and committees.

“This Office will provide MPs with practical assistance which will directly help their scrutiny of financial matters,” WFD Chief Executive Anthony Smith said.

“Its development is a great example of what we can achieve by working in partnership with parliaments and sharing democratic experience from across the UK.”
Notes to editors

1. The PBO will initially employ 5 researchers.

2. WFD has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Serbian Parliament which ensures the PBO will become an integral part of the NARS over the course of WFD’s 2.5-year programme.

3. Ms Gojkovic used a visit to Westminster in November 2014 to announce plans for the PBO following meetings with the House of Lords’ Lord Speaker and the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer.

4. The establishment of a PBO builds on previous work that WFD has done with the Network of Parliamentary Committees (NPC) which is comprised of 25 parliamentary committees on economy, finance and European integration from across the Western Balkans.

5. The Financial Scrutiny Unit (FSU) is part of the Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre and provides independent analysis and support to Scottish Parliament committees and individual Members on budgetary trends and issues, including independent costings of specific spending proposals, as well as research on all areas of the economy and public finances as they affect the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. Scrutiny of Scottish Government spending is a core part of the role of Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). Its remit covers:

• supporting MSPs in undertaking effective budget scrutiny;
• producing financial costings and analysis; and
• providing economic information and analysis.

The FSU produces briefings on a range of areas such as the economy, finance, local government, and the business environment (see: Scottish Parliament website).

6. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) helps strengthen parliaments and political parties in developing countries and countries in transition to democracy. Its programmes aim to build policy capacity so that public policy processes are open, consultative and evidence-based, strengthen accountability so that parliaments and political parties hold other government institutions and actors to account and are accountable themselves to their constituents and stakeholders, improve representation so that parliaments and political parties represent their constituencies effectively and are representative of the interests and needs of their citizens as a whole, and increase citizen participation so that citizens, particularly women, youth and other marginalised groups, have greater access to and a more active role in parliamentary and political processes.

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