October 1, 2022

By Ragan M. Conteh

The Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu, has disclosed that the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) must be non-partisan, while laying emphasis on ‘nonpartisan,’ which is very different from ‘bi-partisan’ or ‘multi-partisan.’

He made that disclosure on Monday 3rd 2020 when delivering statement on the occasion of the official launch of a five-day workshop for the Parliamentary Budget Office in Committee Room One, Parliament Building in Freetown.

According to Hon. Bundu, “As always, it’s a great personal pleasure to add my own special word of welcome to Parliament of the representative of the Ambassador of the European Union to Sierra Leone.  Even more, it is especially gratifying that the EU is able to join us this morning to launch this training on Public Finance Management and the Sierra Leone Budget System.”

He continued that, the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) was established in the Parliament of Sierra Leone in 2017, pursuant to Section 13 of the Parliamentary Service Act of 2007 that empowers the Parliamentary Service Commission to establish such departments as it considers necessary or expedient for the efficient performance of its functions.

The Speaker pointed out that the establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) followed study visits undertaken by MPs and staff to the Parliaments of Uganda and Ghana, with the support of UNDP.

Hon Bundu revealed that it was considered necessary then that they set up a PBO to support Parliament’s oversight functions, including provision of independent and objective analyses of the position of the country’s public finances and the economy, Support to Parliamentary Committees like Finance, Public Accounts, Accountability and Transparency on budget related matters

He furthered that the PBO is set up to support costing of government and legislative proposals as well as support to Parliament’s institutional strengthening process (Support to Committee Clerks, gathering of macroeconomic and budget information, network with think tanks, NGOs, media and academia).

He said, in order for the PBO to be able to carry out the above functions effectively and efficiently, it must possess certain fundamentals. He cited that these fundamentals include but are by no means not limited to first and foremost the PBO must be independent. That is, independent from Government authority and control in the discharge of its duties.

The unit must be free to analyse available data and come to its own conclusions exclusive of the methods used by MDAs. There is therefore need for separate legislation to govern the operations of the PBO in addition to giving it the necessary autonomy.

Secondly, according to the Speaker, the PBO’s work must be authoritative, relying on reputable and credible data and technical expertise that explain why most PBO employees usually are economists or financial analysts with advanced degrees and years of experience in the public service.

The third, the Speaker highlighted, is that the PBO must be non-partisan while he laid emphasis here on ‘nonpartisan,’ which is very different from ‘bi-partisan’ or ‘multi-partisan’.

Non-partisan, he said, connotes the absence of political affiliation of any kind and its analysis must be completely devoid of political perspectives. Instead it should place itself in a position of enjoying acceptance and approval from all political parties because its analyses and conclusions are purely objective.

The Strategic Objectives of the PBO, the Speaker says, must therefore be guided by the broad objectives of the Parliamentary Strategic Plan as reviewed from time to time.

Those objectives, the Speaker continued, should include building and strengthening the capacity of PBOs to effectively deliver on their mandate, increasing efficiency in Parliamentary authorization and approval for economic and social development, building and reinforcing the capacity of Parliament in budget scrutiny and oversight as well as providing alternative national, economic and social plans and programme as well as developing viable domestic, regional and international network for research and policy.

Since 2018, the Speaker said,  the PBO has produced a District Factsheet containing vital information on population, health, education, the economy, ex-post analysis on the budget for the education, social welfare, and water resources sector (2014-2017), quarterly Economic and Budget Briefs in 2019 and quarter 1 & 2 Economic and Budget Briefs in 2020.

He cited that the PBO also aims to be the principal hub for impartial budget, economic and fiscal research and analysis in strengthening the effectiveness of Parliament’s oversight, legislative and lawmaking function in the national budget process.

“To support this vision the leadership of Parliament intends to take concrete actions in mobilizing the required support needed to enhance the effective functioning of the department.  This will help to reinforce Parliament’s oversight work on the budget and ensure accountability, transparency and sustainability of government finances,” he stated.

The Hon. Speaker took the opportunity to thank the EU Ambassador and his team for their support to the Sierra Leone Parliament, and for gracing the occasion.

In setting up the PBO and capacitating it, the Speaker said their aim as Parliament is eventually to give full expression, life, vitality and bring into reality the mandate and entitlement given to Parliament by the National Constitution (Act No. 6 of 1991) as encapsulated in the provisions of Section 74(4).

“Members of Parliament shall be entitled to such salaries, allowances, gratuities, pensions and such other benefits as may be prescribed by Parliament.”

The Speaker concluded that it may not happen in 2020 but make no mistake that “we as a Parliament are determined to join and be part of the new normal already in vogue in the Parliaments of Ghana, Kenya and Uganda,” to name a few.

He said those Parliaments have advanced to the level of developing and passing their own budgets while informing that, it may not happen in Sierra Leone in 2021 or 2022, but it will happen in the not too distant future.