Pacific Floating Parliament Budget Office
In one sentence, the floating Parliament Accounts Committee between Small Pacific Islands State creates a multi-national team of experts who simplifies budget processes while transparently saving resources. A cost-effective measure to share expertise, boost accountability and communicate openly about Governments’ budget processes while providing MPs with the best guidance possible.
Challenge: Many countries have parliamentary budget offices with economic and finance researchers who scrutinize a national budget to provide parliamentarians with independent analysis, so they can easily comprehend the budget, amend it if necessary, and vote on it.
But in the Pacific where countries are small, and parliaments modest, a lack of resources and expertise to provide an analysis of budgets can leave parliamentarians lost in tables and numbers; and civil society organizations and citizens none the wiser about where the money is being spent.
Innovation: The Floating Parliament Accounts Committee is a team of experts from multiple Islands States in the Pacific that go from one Parliament to another to provide expert feedback to MPs and shared their analysis with the public and civil society. According to a member of Fiji Parliament Namoce, “Our job is to simplify the complex information that comes from Ministries of Finance, as most community leaders have little knowledge of budgets and trends in spending. You are dealing with high expectations from politicians to have good information that they can use in debates. The opposition sometimes has even higher expectations for us to investigate and find out where the money is going.”
Objectives: simpler effective transparent and accountable budget design and oversight process from the Parliament and civil society with cost-effective expert support.
Beneficiaries: Pacific Islands States and more specifically the Parliaments of Fiji, Tonge, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.
Scale up: ensure that the Floating Office is sustainable, staffed with experts, reaches more Parliaments and engages with the broader public more systematically, but also continues to develop more expertise on gender specific and climate change adaption markers to promote more inclusive and sustainable budgets.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The Floating Parliament Office is innovative because it tackles a problem encountered in so many administrations in the world: lack of resources both financial and technical. Yet it does not answer it by writing an endless op-ed about lack of resources, or invests in training the few staff that already do not have the time to complete their to-do list. It proposes a concrete and cost-efficient way to improve the accountability and transparency of the budget processes in a way that creates better informed and more sustainable budgets as well.
For more: http://www.pacific.undp.org/content/pacific/en/home/library/eg/the-pacific-floating-budget-office.html
What is the current status of your innovation?
Since its inception, the Pacific Floating Budget Office has provided its services to Fiji, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and twice to Solomon Islands. This year, there are requests from other Pacific countries have expressed their interest – such as Samoa, The Federated States of Micronesia and the Cook Islands. As the demand grows, teams for the floating budget office are being staffed with more members from smaller Pacific island countries, with UNDP providing support and training to enhance their skills. Teams of researchers that can be mobilized together quickly to fly in and provide expert support.
Collaborations & Partnerships
A key partner of the initiative was the Fiji Parliament which was the first to volunteer to implement the initiative. The Parliaments of New Zealand and Pacific Countries also quickly responded positively to provide shared expertise. Individual Parliamentarians as well as the experts who joint the initial team made the success of the initiative. UNDP provided the initial framework and funding which unlocked the willingness to try this novel idea.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Civil society organizations in the region responded quickly and very positively to the invitation to engage and scrutinize budget. They felt empowered to have expert support in their oversight. Similarly the opposition in each Parliament felt particularly vindicated to have the same access as the government to expertise and review to properly debate the budget.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
“The budget briefings are very useful for Members of Parliament who do not always understand the technical aspects of the national budget,” said former Public Account Committee Member and North-East Guadalcanal constituency Member, Honourable Derek Sikua. “It is simple and quite easy to follow.”
“This is an excellent example of regional information exchange and knowledge sharing,” said New Zealand’s Commissioner to Fiji H.E. Johnathan Curr, whose country is one of several providing funding for the project. “Budget transparency is an important element of democracy around the world.”
It is an initiative with great impact, because it makes parliament more inclusive, providing for better engagement with citizens, especially communities that are marginalized.
Challenges and Failures
When you are a stranger rifling through someone else’s books, delving into their money matters, examining who is spending what and where, people tend to get upset. Especially if those people are powerful politicians managing the State’s finances. It has been a long process to gain enough trust for a foreign team to engage on such a sensitive topic as budget planning and oversight.
Conditions for Success
Some initial investment is required as well as team building and training for the joint expert taskforce. A first Parliament willing to experiment and test the idea is a point of departure and a strong advocacy campaign afterwards to disseminate the results of this pilot phase. Absolute integrity and professionalism is required from the team and engagement of the public and civil society allows to ground the effort. Working with both the government and the opposition is essential to gain cross party support.
It is easy to see how more small states could benefit from this initiative and how this doesn't need to be limited to budget processes in Parliament but could also apply to innovation labs or procurement committees.
Political timing is essential: in the pacific countries have different fiscal year schedules which enables such sharing of resources, this wouldn't be possible to operationalize between countries sharing the same timelines and agenda.
A Pacific Floating Parliament Budget Office comprises of parliament staff that is not tied to one parliament but floats around the Pacific providing key research , information and analysis for MPs. More information on how the Pacific Floating Budget Office actually works can be found here. The Floating Budget Office is innovative because it addresses the challenge in a new and different way – creating a model that pools capacity and engages South-South cooperation (instead of traditional North-South development modality), and its successful implementation has meant that hundreds of MPs across the Pacific receive independent budget briefs before they vote on the national budgets.