Strengthening parliamentary oversight of public finances is a vital element of improving governance, transparency and accountability.
It ensures effective delivery of public services and that tax payers’ money is raised and spent properly. In most political systems, parliaments have a role in approving budgets as well as reviewing government spending to ensure that funds are used properly, efficiently and effectively.
In recent years, WFD supported many parliaments with the budget process. This work focused particularly on the oversight role exercised by Committees, including Public Accounts Committees (PACs). Parliaments need the right skills to play a more active and rigorous role scrutinising and challenging budget proposals. In response to this need, many parliaments have established, or are establishing, parliamentary budget offices or other such in-house expertise to provide independent financial and economic analysis.
What is a Parliamentary Budget Office?
A semi-independent financial institution that seeks to help parliaments monitor the governments’ fiscal and economic policies by providing non-partisan analysis in a user-friendly format accessible to MPs. These publications are made available to parliamentarians, committees and the public more widely, making economic policies and public finances easier to understand. WFD’s work to help establish PBOs in the Western Balkans region is one of its greatest achievements to date and has encouraged countries in other regions to adopt similar initiatives.
Independent oversight institutions and regulatory agencies play an important role in the governance system of many countries, and specifically in parliamentary democracies. WFD is exploring practical ways to support the interaction between independent oversight institutions and regulatory agencies with parliament. To ensure a sufficient level of accountability, parliament’s interaction with these bodies is very relevant to WFD programmes.
What is an independent oversight institution?
From the Ombudsperson Institution to Anti-Corruption Agencies or the Human Rights Commission, independent institutions play an important role ensuring countries governments comply with human rights and other standards. Independent oversight institutions exercise oversight over the democratic functioning and integrity of the executive and state administration.
What are regulatory agencies?
Many countries have established regulatory agencies, which often play a fundamental role in specific sectors like energy, telecommunications, civil aviation or financial services. They conduct a regulatory role over a specific economic sector, independent from government.
This new thematic area will examine three questions:
- What characteristics determine the scope of the independence and accountability of Independent Oversight Institutions and Regulatory Agencies in a democratic system of governance?
- To what extent is their consistency in the application of the mechanisms of independence and accountability by similar-type institutions across countries?
- How can national parliaments safeguard or strengthen the independence while ensuring the accountability of these independent oversight institutions and regulatory agencies?
Those interested in democracy and good governance should be alive to both the risks and the opportunities posed by the coronavirus pandemic – their voices could make the difference between setback and progress.
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