Suva, Fiji – Representatives of Fiji’s Civil Society Organisations (CSO) attended a briefing on the National Budget in Suva today following its announcement last week, in recognition of the crucial role they play in holding the executive accountable on how public resources are utilized.
The one-day briefing, organised by the Parliament of the Republic of Fiji with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) provided a platform for CSOs to scrutinise the Budget and to help inform public debates on the formulation and content of the budget.
With the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there is a greater responsibility for all who work in the development space to advocate for and uphold core principles of good governance.
Speaking at the opening of the Budget briefing, the Speaker for the Parliament of the Republic of Fiji, His Excellency Honourable Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, acknowledged the presence of CSO representatives, as the Fiji Parliament continues to strengthen its parliamentary openness and promote an open and inclusive budgetary process.
“Thank you for accepting your Parliament’s invitation to the Budget Briefing session this morning,” said H.E. Ratu Nailatikau.
“Today, you will be receiving from the Parliament Secretariat an independent, factual and impartial information of the 2020 – 2021 National Budget. The information that the Parliament Secretariat is providing today has also been provided to the 51 Members of Parliament.”
“This is part of the Fijian Parliament efforts to level the playing field by providing access to neutral information services that would normally only be available to much larger legislatures.”
As per global legislature practice, the budget information does not provide policy advice on the merits, or feasibility of proposals, so as to protect the independence of the institution, and ensure the neutrality of the Parliament Secretariat.
In other larger parliaments, a budget costing and information service is sometimes provided by a Parliamentary Budget Office (BPO), however in the absence of a similar set up in Fiji, UNDP continues to provide support through the provision of an agile set up of using existing staff from different units within the Secretariat, as well as pooling staff from other regional parliaments.
The same practice has been extended to other countries in the region.
Echoing the same sentiment, the Executive Director for the Fiji Council of Social Services, Vani Catanasiga, underscored the important role CSOs play in the National Budget process.
“CSOs must play an important role in how a nation’s finances are managed,” said Catanasiga.
“In scrutinising public finance management, we help to ensure that national budgets are people centered and inclusive of the needs of those who are forgotten and left behind.”
She added, “Our participation today,, gives us as Fiji CSOs the opportunity to do exactly this and to collectively apply our lenses as human rights organisations, social services networks, advocacy and interest groups as a sector on a national budget that is supposed to sustain us through one of Fiji’s most difficult periods in history.”
The UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji Deputy Resident Representative a.i., Kevin Petrini, in his opening address highlighted that with a shift in mobilizing large economic relief packages as a response to COVID-19, there is a greater need for scrutiny.
“Crisis often comes with associated risks to stability, governance and accountability processes. This makes monitoring of public funds allocation spending even more relevant priority,” said Petrini.
“The objective of this one-day workshop is to share ideas and provide understanding and knowledge about key issues, principles and information in the national budget; assist you in your role in spreading that information through community education and advocacy programs; and also assist you in contributing to the public debates on the formulation and content of future budget cycles.”
He added, “I wish to stress that the national budget impacts the entire country: all sectors and institutions, and all communities, whether urban or rural. The availability of information to citizens and CSOs, allows for their full participation in the process, thus helping create more open and transparent governance system.”
The Briefing for CSO’s on the 2020 – 2021 Fiji National Budget was made possible with UNDP through the Effective Governance projects namely, the Fiji Parliament Support Project II funded by the Governments of Japan, New Zealand and Australia and the Strengthening Pacific Public Finance Management and Governance project funded by the European Union.
The Parliament of the Republic of Fiji has been implementing a Budget Briefing for CSOs since 2017, with a growing global consensus that an active engagement of citizens, civil society, and the media in budget processes is essential.
For more information:
Bale Dolokoto, Civic Education and Media Unit, Parliament of Republic of Fiji. E: firstname.lastname@example.org, P: (679) 3305 811
Jone Tuiipelehaki Raqauqau, Communications Associate, Effective Governance Team, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji. E: email@example.com, P: (679) 3227 552