24 July 2020 (Suva, Fiji) – Representatives of Fiji’s civil society organisations (CSO) attended a National Budget information sharing session following its announcement two weeks ago in recognition of the important role CSO’s play in holding the executive accountable for how public resources are utilized.
The event, organised by the Parliament of the Republic of Fiji with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) provided a platform for CSOs to scrutinise the Budget, to help inform public debates on the formulation and content of the budget and equally important understand the process of the budget debate in Parliament.
With the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there is a greater responsibility for all that work in the development space to advocate for and uphold core principles of good governance.
Speaking at the opening of the Budget briefing, the Speaker for the Parliament of the Republic of Fiji, His Excellency Honourable Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, acknowledged the presence of CSO representatives as the Fiji Parliament continues to strengthen its parliamentary openness and promote an open and inclusive budgetary process.
“Thank you for accepting your Parliament’s invitation to the Budget Briefing session this morning,” said H.E. Ratu Nailatikau.
“Today, you will be receiving from the Parliament secretariat an independent, factual and impartial information of the 2020 – 2021 National Budget. The information provided has been the kind provided to the 51 Members of Parliament in previous years.
“This is part of the Fijian Parliament efforts to level the playing field by providing access to neutral information services that would normally only be available to much larger legislatures.”
As per global legislature practice, the budget information does not provide policy advice on the merits, or feasibility of proposals, so as to protect the independence of the institution, and ensure the neutrality of the parliamentary secretariat.
In other larger parliaments, a budget costing and information service is sometimes provided by a Parliamentary Budget Office (BPO), however in the absence of a similar set up in Fiji, UNDP continues to provide support through the provision of an agile set up of using existing staff from different units within the Secretariat as well as pooling staff from other regional parliaments.
The same practice has been extended to other countries in the region.
Echoing the same sentiment, the Executive Director for the Fiji Council of Social Services, Vani Catanasiga, underscored the important role CSOs play in the National Budget process.
“CSOs must play an important role in how a nation’s finances are managed,” said Catanasiga.
“In scrutinising public finance management, we help to ensure that national budgets are people centered and inclusive of the needs of those who are forgotten and left behind.”
She added, “Our participation at this workshop gives us as Fiji CSOs the opportunity to do exactly this and to collectively apply our lenses as human rights organisations, social services networks, advocacy and interest groups as a sector on a national budget that is supposed to sustain us through one of Fiji’s most difficult periods in history.”
The UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji Deputy Resident Representative a.i., Kevin Petrini, in his opening address highlighted that with a shift in mobilizing large economic relief packages as a response to COVID-19, there is a greater need for scrutiny.
“With any crisis also come the associated risks to governance and accountability processes; making monitoring of the ways public funds are being spent an even more relevant priority,” said Petrini.
“The objective of this one-day briefing is to provide understanding and knowledge about the key information contained in the national budget; assist you in your role of spreading that information through community education and advocacy programs; and also assist you in contributing to the public debates on the formulation and content of future budget cycles.”
He added, “I wish to stress that the national budget impact the entire country: all sectors and institutions, and all communities, whether urban or rural. The more information that is made available to citizens and CSOs to allow for their full participation in the process, the more open and transparent governance systems will become.”
The Briefing for CSO’s on the Fiji National Budget was made possible through UNDP’s Effective Governance projects namely, the Fiji Parliament Support Project II funded by the Governments of Japan, New Zealand and Australia and the Strengthening Pacific Public Finance Management and Governance project funded by the European Union.
The Parliament of the Republic of Fiji has been implementing a national budget information awareness session for CSOs since 2017 with a growing global consensus that an active engagement of citizens, civil society, and the media in budget processes is essential.