Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha

Members of the National Assembly’s Economic and Finance Committee (EFC), which reviews the budget allocation presented by the finance ministry, are developing a Procedures Manual on Legislative Scrutiny of Budget to enhance the review system.

The manual is almost complete and will be used as a guideline for reviewing the budget report of 2020-21 presented in Parliament.

Development of the manual was one of the outcomes of the three-day training on legislative scrutiny of budget and analysis held in Punakha.

Legislative scrutiny of the budget is the extent to which the legislature scrutinises, debates and approves the budget.

The review should cover fiscal policies, medium-term fiscal forecast and details of expenditure and review estimate, among others.

A member of the EFC, Member of Parliament (MP) Kinley Wangchuk, said that the manual would serve as a checklist while reviewing the budget. “Without it, we could miss certain points. The manual mentions inflation, public financing, prioritising budget and many other tools to scan the budget.”

With several EFC members as participants, the training was provided by Dr McCarthy Phiri (PhD), who is a public financial management expert and has experience of over 23 years.

The training was also aimed at improving Bhutan’s legislative scrutiny of budgets rating, which stands at C+.  The rating is provided by the Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA), a programme initiated by seven international development partners.

MP Kinley Wangchuk said that, as suggested in the training, the committee would push for more time to review the budget presented by the finance ministry.

The committee currently was given only ten days to review the budget presented, he said.  Internationally, at least three months is recommended to review the budget. “We feel that we should be given at least a month for review. The committee should be given budgetary process and the document well before the session starts.”

In current practice, the committee gets the document only after it is introduced in parliament.

The expert also recommended changes in the Local Government (LG) Act to ensure that the MPs have enough access to documents and enough right to look into the details and rationale behind budget allocation.

Budget scrutinisation at ministry-level was also discussed.

“National Assembly Act allows us to question, but beyond that the committee should be taking an active role,” Kinley Wangchuk said.

Recommendations to introduce constituency-based development plan and policies were also suggested.

“This doesn’t mean the MPs should be given money but that they should be given certain power to decide what should happen, considering the efficacy of some of the LG officials,” Kinley Wangchuk said.

The recommendations will be further discussed at the plenary held before the budget session.

The training, was organised by the National Assembly funded under the Public Financial Management Multi-Donor Fund by Austrian Development Agency and European Union administered by the World Bank.