March 21, 2013Doug Hadden
Doug Hadden, VP Products
The opaque ceremony of revealing the Government of Canada budget is in full swing. The Minister of Finance has bought new shoes. Journalists have been sequestered. Armed guards might be protecting the Queen’s Printer .
Canada has a tradition of “budget confidentiality”. Cabinet ministers and senior public servants can interact with citizens to develop the budget. But, it is a criminal offence to reveal budget details ahead of the speech.
Budget confidentiality apparently doesn’t mean leaking tidbits to the press in order to drive suspense. Journalists are speculate based on these tidbits.
Does our budget processes an international public sector good practice?
I concluded last year that we could learn a lot from international Public Financial Management (PFM) good practices that are use in developing countries.
That’s right. For all of the excitement about live tweeting using the #eap13 hash tag, we’ve fallen behind in budget transparency. Fortunately for the government, the Open Budget Index does not rate Canada .
Of course, the budget is a political document. Yet, it is the most critical annual deliverable from the government. It is the embodiment of government policy. Yet, Canadians will have less than 10 days to consider it because the new fiscal year begins on April 1.
Specific deficiencies in the Government of Canada budget formulation process, that fails to meet international good practice include:
- Pre-Budget Statement Must be released at least one month before the Executive’s Budget Proposal is submitted to the legislature for consideration.
- Periodicity: The executive should adhere to regular deadlines in an annual calendar for drafting the budget, presenting it to the legislature for debate and enactment
- Publicity: All of a country’s citizens should have the right, as individuals or in association in the form of civil society organizations (CSOs), to make and express judgments on the country’s budget. This requires that budget documents be widely available. This is especially important for the Executive’s Budget Proposal, which should be available to citizens before it is adopted by the legislature.
- The release date is known at least one month in advance
We have lost our public financial management leadership mojo
There was a time when, as a Canadian company, we could point to our country’s sterling record in the stewardship of public funds. And, the use of e-government.
Yet, as a provider of Government Resource Planning (GRP) software used in Canada and 19 other countries, we find the tables have turned. A decade ago, the software designed to meet Government of Canada needs was considered too advanced for many countries. (Fortunately, the design enabled us to dial back functionality and to enable the progressive activation of features.).
Today, much of the software functionality that we support for developing countries is more advanced than is used in Canada. This includes program management, performance dashboards, budget planning, procurement and transparency portals.
I’m not blaming the current government. This is a tradition that goes back over many years and many governments.
It’s high time that we question our budget traditions. To support international good practices. And, to go beyond superficial citizen outreach.
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