Government urged to be more open to citizens Featured

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At the recent presentation of Ghana’s budget statement and economic policy for the 2016 financial year, the Finance Minister, Mr. Seth Terkper, presented an estimate of costs, revenues, and resources that government has planned to use to achieve its developmental objectives.

In view of this, SEND-GHANA perused the document and has come out with some comments. 

Please read full comments below:

COMMENTS ON 2016 BUDGET

Introduction 

In August 2015, SEND-Ghana submitted citizens’ budget proposals as inputs into the 2016 Budget. The initiative was in response to government’s commitment to ensure citizens participation in the budget process. We wish to commend government for its commitment to strengthen citizens’ involvement in the budget process which is a key element of democracy. 

Just as it is important for citizens to make inputs into the national budget, it is even more essential that citizens make assessment of the final Budget Statement to verify the extent to which their inputs were given policy recognition. It is in this light that SEND-Ghana once again on behalf of citizens, who submitted inputs, undertake an assessment of the 2016 Budget uploaded by the Ministry of Finance on its website.

Our assessment is focused on key sectors of interest such as education, health, agriculture and anti-corruption. The focus on these sectors is consistent with our strategic objective to make the budget work for the equity. 

Given that programme specific budget is not yet available to the public; our assessment has been limited to the main 2016 Budget Statement .An in-depth analysis of programme budgets would be undertaken when information is made available to the public.  

Issues of Transparency and Accountability

It is indicative from the Budget Statement that 2016 would be a challenging year given that Ghana is under an IMF Programme. We acknowledge the need for fiscal discipline to improve difficulties the country faced in 2015 such as depreciation of the cedi, high inflation and energy crisis among others. We welcome prudent measures to restore confidence in the economy and stimulate growth which would accrue benefits for Ghanaians, in particular the poor, in the medium to long term. 

We believe a period of austerity presents opportunity for government to be open with citizens. Citizens can only understand and bear with government during difficult times when they are fully aware of government operations. Unfortunately, we did not find 2016 Budget Statement has sufficient room for openness. For the first time in government’s budget, we noted huge sums of money are set aside as “other government obligations”. For instance under the health budget, a total of approximately GH₵1.49billion equivalent to 30.65 % of the total health sector budget is set aside for “other government obligations”. Similar unspecified item is found in other Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) budgets such as Ministry of Roads and Highways, Ministry of Education and District Assembly Common Fund. 

We believe that such practice does not lend itself to transparency and accountability. In our previous submissions to government, we had hammered on the need for government to present information in a disaggregated manner to facilitate monitoring by individuals and civil society who wish to do so. For instance, we would like to know which categories of expenditure constitute “other government obligations”. 

We will now focus on the four main sectors SEND-GHANA is involved with. 

Health 

The health of Ghanaians is the wealth of Ghana. We thus commend government for its commitments to improve health outcomes over the years through policy initiatives. To achieve this requires more investment, efficient utilization and equitable distribution of the resources. Unfortunately, the 2016 health budget as presented shows a decrease of 7.2 % over that of 2015. 

Nevertheless, we are happy to note that the budget has addressed many issues we have raised in our past engagements with government. We commend government for reviewing the CHPS Policy and Strategy as well as a model design for CHPS Compound in 2015. Currently there are a number of CHPS Compounds with midwives as well as enrolled nurses. This allows the Community Health Officers at CHPS compounds to concentrate on their home visits.

In our “Citizens Input into 2016 Budget” submitted to the Ministry of Finance, we made proposals as follows:

i) Progressively increase allocations for the health sector indexed to inflation rate and to move towards Abuja declaration of 15% of the total budget. Investment in goods and services as well as capital expenditure should be increased in the 2016. 

ii) Realign health sector budget to allow allocation of additional resources to go to primary health care and lower level health facilities at district and sub district levels to improve access and to bring quality health care to the door steps of the poor and vulnerable people. Such realignment should include expanding the coverage under the Community Health and Planning Services (CHPS) and providing adequate logistics for their functioning. In 2016, the number of new CHPS Compounds to be established and the budgetary allocation for same should be clearly stated. 

iii) Increase budgetary resources to meet shortfalls in essential drugs and other medical supplies especially in the face of the recent burning of the central medical store. Priority should be given to the procurement of vital health commodities such as Anti-retroviral drugs, psychotropic drugs, Anti-snake, rabies and CSM vaccines etc.

iv) Increase funding for Health Management Information System (HMIS) in order to capture health data from the districts and facilities level so that it feeds into the national health data.

We are happy to note that consistent with our proposal to increase resource allocation to primary health care and lower level facilities in particular the CHPS programme, government has committed to spend 63 % of the total health budget on primary health and to build 250 out of proposed 1,600 CHPS Compounds across the ten regions in 2016. However, the budget was silent on how much the 250 CHPS Compound would cost. This we believe does not allow for civil society’s monitoring. 

As signatory to the Abuja Declaration, Ghana is enjoined to spend 15 % of its national budget on health.  This was the rationale behind our proposal to ensure progressive increase of the health budget to achieve the Abuja Declaration target of 15 %. Once again, government failed to meet this target. The 2016 health sector budget constituted 8.9% of the total budget.

Education 

The education sector in every nation is the foundation for human development, productivity and economic transformation. Therefore increased access and quality delivery is essential ingredients to be addressed in every national budget. We recognize government’s efforts in 2015 to improve access and quality. We commend government for taking initiatives to address all issues under the 29 strategies outlined in the 2015 budget. Particularly, we commend government for addressing some of the issues we have consistently raised in our policy advocacy activities in the education sector. For instance we are happy that the 2016 Budget intends to review the regulatory regime for private schools and strengthen monitoring to ensure that quality standards are not compromised. This is crucial given the role private schools play in the sector. We are also glad to note that a national school feeding policy has been submitted to cabinet for consideration following an evaluation. 

However, the 2016 budget in our view does not sufficiently ensure continues improvement in access and quality. With inflation in Ghana on the ascendency, the basic expectation from the 2016 Budget was to make significant adjustment for inflation. In other words we expected that the 2016 Budget would show significant increase over that of 2015; but this we observed is not the case. 

The 2016 education sector budget suffered nominal reduction of GH₵2 million (3 %) from GH₵6.7 billion to GH₵6.5 billion. In terms of real value, the 2016 education sector budget is only GH₵4.1 billion. We have observed that a reduction in government and donors’ contribution to the sector by 2 % and 8 % respectively as well as no allocation from the Annual Budget Funding Amount (ABFA- oil money) to the sector accounted for such decreased allocations. In the wake of donor cuts, we believe, government should have increased its contribution to make up for the shortfall. It rather surprising that government has instead reduced its contribution to the sector. Based on the sector’s performance on Internally Generated Fund in 2015, the expectation that there would be 16 % increase in 2016 is ambitious.  The inability of the sector to meet this (which is supported by past performance) would have negative impact on revenue for the implementation of the outlined programmes.  Therefore the expectation to raise 66 % of asset budget from IGF is even more worrying.

We are also concerned that the 2016 education budget does not show improvement in the proportion of the sector budget which goes into assets and goods and services. A total of 74.6 % of the 2016 education budget goes into compensation. The remaining is split between assets and goods and services at 5.4% and 20% respectively. Worryingly, approximately 67 % of the asset budget is to be realized from IGF. This further raises concern as the asset programmes risk abandonment if sufficient IGF is not raised.  

In our “Citizens Input into the 2016 Budget”, we made key proposals as follows:

i. Increase Capitation Grant to reflect the general cost of goods and services in the country and ensure its timely release. 

ii. Promote equitable deployment of teachers by providing basic social amenities such as potable water, good sanitation; electricity, decent housing and good roads are key factors for attracting trained teachers to deprived communities.

iii. Provide Child Friendly Schools for all children including children with disabilities. The Ministry of Education should make it mandatory for basic water and sanitation facilities to become core elements of model school infrastructure at each level, from KG to JHS. Informed by the new Inclusive Education Policy, it should be made mandatory for the 2016 Budget to fund only educational infrastructure that makes the school environment friendly for disabled and other children who have been excluded due to their physical disability.

iv. Increase allocation to underfunded agencies and divisions in the education sector such as Special Education and Non Formal Education

We are happy to note that our proposals were largely incorporated into the budget. However, we note that some of these issues have not been addressed sufficiently as expected. Below are our concerns:

Capitation Grant

The 2016 Budget committed to pay capitation grant but failed to indicate whether it would be increased from the current GH₵4.50 per pupil. We are concerned that the capitation grant has not seen any nominal adjustment since 2009. By the inflationary trends in Ghana, the real value of this amount is GHc₵2.80, which is woefully inadequate to support the provision of quality education. 

Removing ‘’Schools under trees’’

Item 651 on page 124 of the 2016 Budget states that “a total of 1714 school projects out of 2578 were completed and handed over. Government plans to complete the remaining 864 ‘schools under trees’ project within the medium term”. While we find this statement indicative that government plans to remove more schools under trees, the budget was silent on how many would be constructed in 2016 and at what cost. We believe that such information is insufficient and raises transparency related questions that may hinder citizens’ monitoring initiatives. 

Increase funding to Special Schools and Non-formal Education 

We note that government’s commitment to increase allocation to underfunded agencies and divisions in the education sector is expressed in the number of classes and pupils it would support during the year. For instance, the budget indicated that government would increase the number of classes by 8 % and learners by 9 % (See pages 125 & 126). Similarly, pupils benefiting from feeding grant under the inclusive and special education would increase by 9 % in 2015/2016 academic year. Yet the budget failed to indicate the exact amount allocated to pursue such initiatives. 

Agriculture 

The agricultural sector is the mainstay of the economy and employs over 40 % of working Ghanaians. Unfortunately, the sector has over the years not received the needed attention to spur significant growth as seen in 2015.  A growth rate of 0.04 % was certainly too low to provide some level of comfort for many Ghanaians in 2015.  We observe that the low growth has been caused by government’s inability to implement programmes planned in 2015. For instance, we noted that government was only able to procure and distribute 90,000 metric tons of subsidized fertilizer instead of the 180,000 metric tons target. The 2016 budget failed to provide updates on 41 more Agricultural Mechanization Centres (AMSECs) to be established and construction of 2500mt National Food and Buffer Stock Company (NAFCO) warehouses as mentioned in the 2015 budget statement.

We believe that the least a country facing macro-economic challenges and going through austerity measures could do for itself is to feed its citizens. And this could be achieved with sufficient investment in the sector to boost productivity. We are pleased to note that Governments ABFA allocation to Agricultural modernization for 2016 has seen an increase of 316.57 % (GHC 284,450,130) compared to allocations in 2015 ( 89,852941). As the saying goes, ‘we ought to put our money where our mouth is’. We therefore hope that government would be committed to implementing all the programmes outlined in the 2016 budget to increase growth in the sector. 

Anti-corruption 

It is our firm belief that the fight against corruption can only be achieved when state institutions mandated to curb the menace are adequately resourced. In the wake of the recent judicial service scandal, we had expected that the 2016 budget would have programmes to increase the capacity of state institutions mandated to deal with corruption. Surprisingly, the judicial services rather saw a decline of 3 % in its 2016 allocation compared to 2015. Although CHRAJ saw an increase of in its allocation from GH₵24 million to GH₵30.5million, its real value is GHc19.57million. 

The worrying trend is the percentage of the total amount that goes into compensations. For instance parliament which is the law making body of Ghana and also approves Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recommendations has 71.3 % of its total allocations going into compensations with 28.7 % to undertake its other functions. Similarly, a total of 72 % of the judicial service total allocation goes into compensations, leaving 28 % for services provision. What this means is that government is paying wages and salaries to its employees but it is not adequately resourcing them to deliver on their mandate.

Conclusion 

Improving access and quality services delivery in the health and education sectors, (particularly for girls, women and persons with disability); and boosting productivity in agricultural sector are some surest ways to alleviate the impact of the planned austerity measure to be pursued in 2016 on Ghanaians, in particular the poor. We can promote value for money and efficiency if anti-corruption institutions are well equipped to reduce corruption. 

We wish to highlight that planned programmes for 2016 must be equitably distributed. For instance, we recommend that particular attention is paid to the design of schools under trees project to make them disability friendly to contribute to the goal of achieving inclusive education for children in Ghana. 

Even though the 2016 budget has been presented to parliament, we believe there is a window of opportunity to amend it during the process of parliamentary approval. In addition, a mid-year review presents another opportunity to address the issues we have raised.  

In our analysis, we noted that an exercise of this nature would have been more thorough if we had programme budgets also available. We therefore take this opportunity to call on the Ministry of Finance to ensure that programme budgets are released simultaneously as the national budget statement. This will provide us sufficient data for informed analysis.

In conclusion, we would like to commend government for affording citizens the space to participate in the budget preparation process. However budget preparation is only one out of the four steps in the budget process. It is our belief that government would strengthen measures to increase citizens’ involvement in the budget process during execution, monitoring and evaluation. This we believe would require open access to real life data and cooperation with MDAs and MMDAs. Therefore we hope that the websites of the MDAs and MMDAs would have frequent update with detailed and use-friendly data.

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SEND Ghana
Box A28 Regimanuel Estates,
Nungua Barrier, Sakumono,

Tel: +233 (0) 302 716830 / 302 716860

Email: info@sendwestafrica.org