By Haruna Gimba
The Africa Health Budget Network (AHBN) has called on African governments to take urgent action to increase access to budget information and provide more opportunity for public engagement in the budgeting process.
At the World Bank/IMF 2016 Spring Meeting’s Civil Society Policy Forum in Washington, D.C, AHBN showed that publishing key budget documents and public participation in the design and implementation of health budgets leads to more and better health spending.
AHBN’s Aminu Magashi Garba said: “It has been shown that public participation and open budgets can improve the health of its citizens because those budgets will be more influenced by the priorities of the people who use health services every day.
“We see from the ‘Panama Papers’ that transparency matters because it is our money. Imagine what $50b could provide for Africa if it were not going elsewhere through illicit financial flows. African voices are calling for better spending on women and children. Value our health”
According to the 2015 Open Budget Survey, 13 countries in sub-Saharan Africa provide minimal or no budget information. Only three countries, Malawi, Uganda and South Africa provide substantial budget information so that their citizens can see what has been spent and the results of these investments.
It was gathered that publishing key documents, many of which are produced, but not made available to the public can help to keep governments accountable for the way they spend public money.
Chair of the Union of Tanzanian Press Clubs, Kenneth Simbaya, said it is people money and health and have a right to see this information.
“It is journalists’ responsibility to properly examine expenditure to see if it is fair, sensible and reflects the priorities of the people,” he emphasized.
The network called for listening to the voice of the people, through effective participatory processes, during the formulation and implementation of health budgets, like the use of open legislative hearings where the public can testify, and social audits have been shown to engage the public in how their money is spent.
In his submission, Director of Budgets in the Ugandan Ministry of Finance, Kenneth Mugabe said open budgets are critical for improving the delivery of public services such as health.
“In Uganda, we have made transparency part and parcel of our budgetary system. By forming strong partnerships with civil society, we have been able to ensure that information goes out to the broader public and that that the views of the public are fed back into the system. In this way, we work with the public to hold line ministries to account,” he said.