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Why Somalia budget making needs tighter controls

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EDITORIAL | Somalia’s new government has been settling in well after Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre took office on Wednesday to signal an imminent restructuring.  But whether he retains or decides to part with the current cabinet, the debate on budgeting and how government officials spend public funds will likely follow.

On Thursday, Dr. Abdulrahman Beileh, the Finance Minister, rode a storm in three days of parliamentary grilling on public expenditure to see the budget finally approved by parliament. This was, according to the law, the most critical stage in the budget making for Somalia.

That grilling was vital because it was the only time public officers could account for the deeds using public funds. Somalia’s budget has been growing, and any cent allocated for use must be explained. The budget, for example, has been growing since 2018, the presumptive year when revenue collection also started to improve in the country, even though corruption worsened, according to Transparency International.

This year, for example, the government has been allowed to spend $247.7 million more than last year’s $671 million. It had risen from $476 million in 2018. The trend is such that it has almost added $200 million yearly since 2018.

Now that MPs have endorsed the budget proposals, a further critical look at expenditures and evaluation of those projects can help determine if the country is rebuilding from years of war or simply allowing its public officers to get rich.

Traditionally, there have been four stages of making the budget. These are formulation, approval, implementation, and audit also called evaluation of expenditure.

The Minister for Finance is usually responsible for formulating, which means he collects proposals from federal government agencies and makes them into one statement that asses available resources against needs. Once he is done, he tables the statement to the Council of Ministers, who then peruse and forward the document to parliament. Once parliament, the bicameral sitting of the Senate and Lower House, approves, it can then be implemented by disbursing funds to the projects or recurrent expenditure.

But there are gaps. Somalia needs to place the people at the center of budgeting. People need to be allowed channels in which they can suggest critical programs to be given priority. For example, camel herders may need a highway to transport their products, but traders in Mogadishu may need more money channeled to electrifying their business areas. This aspect of public views collection is almost non-existent in Somalia.

Of course, leaders have argued priority was given to peace and stability to ensure institutions can be rebuilt gradually. Yet Somalia cannot be in transition forever. For example, the transitional federal government ended in 2012, and authorities have since been claiming the country is back on its feet. No feet will stand, however, unless people’s views are ignored.

Additionally, Somalia’s bulk of funding is from donors who have also tried to control expenditure in the past. The problem with this has been that it comes with coated interference. If Somalia tightened loose nuts on integrity, external funding would not need to come with strings attached.

We must learn from this week’s budget process and tighten our controls. Ministers and other government chiefs should know public funds come with a higher degree of the audit.

We hope that when the Auditor General tables expenditure reports (Xisaab xir) before the federal parliament, there will be an adequate explanation of where money has gone or where it has been sourced from.

GAROWE ONLINE 

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