By Lawrence Williams
The ongoing budget discussions in Sierra Leone have shed light on the state of scrutiny and oversight by District Budget Oversight Committees (DBOCs), Non-State Actors (NSAs), and civil society organisations (CSOs). However, it is evident that there is room for improvement in ensuring proper scrutiny of budget proposals and creating an inclusive and effective oversight process.
One area that requires attention is the lack of thorough scrutiny by these oversight bodies, with the exception of the technical team from the Ministry of Finance that is doing well in this regard. The purpose of these discussions should be to comprehensively review the previous year’s receivables and expenditures of government agencies (MDAs) and assess the alignment of their proposals for FY2024 with the government’s Big Five agenda priorities and the country’s Medium Term National Development Plan. However, it seems that the scrutiny process is not receiving the attention it deserves, potentially compromising transparency and accountability.
One possible reason for this issue is the evident lack of capacity of some, if not most, representatives from the DBOCs, NSAs, and CSOs. It is critical to provide these oversight bodies with the necessary skills, training, and resources to effectively carry out their responsibilities. Building their capacity will allow them to critically analyse budget proposals, identify inconsistencies, and ensure that the interests of the citizens are adequately represented during the budgeting process.
Additionally, there is a need to address the lack of representation from younger individuals in the oversight process. It is disheartening to observe that many oversight representatives are of advanced age. Some of them have repeatedly demonstrated that they are more concerned with self-aggrandisement than with raising the bar and improving the budget scrutiny. This raises questions about the lack of younger people involved in the process.
It is important to have a diversity of perspectives in any field, and this is especially true for oversight representatives. Older people may have valuable experience, but they may also be less open to new ideas and less willing to challenge the status quo. Younger people, on the other hand, may be more energetic and innovative, but they may also lack the experience and knowledge that older people have. It is therefore important to find a balance between the two perspectives so that oversight representatives can be both effective and accountable.
It is also pertinent to point out that young people have a deep understanding of the issues affecting the younger generation. By involving them in the oversight process, we can enhance the effectiveness and relevance of budget discussions, ensuring that the budget addresses the needs and aspirations of all segments of society.
To address these issues, concerted efforts should be made to revitalise and re-energise oversight bodies and engage a wider range of participants. This can be accomplished through targeted capacity-building programs for DBOCs and NSAs, including public financial management experts and journalists, focusing on budget analysis, fiscal responsibility, and good governance practices. Additionally, initiatives should be implemented to encourage the active involvement of young people in the oversight process, such as promoting youth representation and mentorship programs.
It is also important to highlight the crucial role of the media in holding government institutions accountable and ensuring that the voices of citizens are heard. Journalists should continue to investigate and report on the budget discussions, shedding light on any shortcomings, and advocating for strong oversight and inclusive participation.
In conclusion, the ongoing budget discussions require immediate attention to strengthen scrutiny and promote youth involvement. By bolstering the capacity of oversight bodies, diversifying their composition, and encouraging active participation, we can achieve a more robust and accountable budgeting process that truly reflects the needs and aspirations of the people. This, in turn, will contribute to a more inclusive and prosperous future for Sierra Leone.