Your Excellency, Honourable Speaker Ratu Epeli Nailatikau,
Secretary-General and Parliament staff,
Colleagues from development partner organizations and missions,
Representatives from Civil Society Organizations,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Ni Sa Yadra Vinaka, Assalaam Aleykum and Namaste.
Welcome to the 2020 budget briefing for CSOs, jointly convened by the Fiji Parliament and UNDP.
It is a pleasure, and an honor, to be here this morning and give a few remarks on behalf of the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji.
As the COVID-19 pandemic drives profound societal and organizational shifts throughout the world, the unprecedented crisis also places greater responsibility for all institutions working in the development space, national and international, to actively advocate for, and uphold, the core principles of sustainability, equity and good governance.
While governments and development partners continue to mobilize large economic relief packages to respond to the economic and social crisis caused by COVID-19, the reality is that there are also, much less available resources than usual to support public policies.
Crisis often comes with associated risks to stability, governance and accountability processes. This makes monitoring of public funds allocation spending even more relevant priority.
Since 2014, UNDP has provided assistance to the Fiji Parliament through the Fiji Parliament Support Project, funded by New Zealand, Japan and Australia. The assistance focuses on Parliament’s capacity to effectively legislate, hold the Executive accountable, and represent the citizens as part of the broader aim of achieving the 2030 Agenda.
Since 2018, UNDP has been implementing a European Union funded Pacific regional project, aimed at strengthening accountability mechanisms in public finance management systems – which involves assistance to Parliaments, the offices of Auditor Generals and Civil Society.
Fiji Parliament, like other legislatures around the world, has a crucial role during the national budget cycle. As you know, legislative approval of the national budget is a constitutional requirement. Parliament, through its representation and oversight functions, acts as the link between the public, and the government which allocates and uses the public monies.
Parliament ensures that the budget reflects the priorities of the country; and once the budget has been passed, ensures financial accountability, in monitoring how the funds are being spent.
Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) also have a key role to play in ensuring government transparency, efficiency and accountability. Their active participation in Fiji’s national budget cycle is essential. Their contribution – your contribution – to the budget consultation process, for instance, is key. Independent sources of useful ideas and analyses can help inform the budget process, and help articulate the concerns and interests of specific sectors of society in the budget process.
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 a more open and transparent governance system.
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.
Due to the impact of COVID-19 on travels, the budget briefings have been supported, this year, by an innovative version of the “Pacific Floating Budget Office” partnership between the Fiji Parliament and UNDP in 2016.
Researchers from the Parliaments of the Solomon Islands, New Zealand and the Parliament of the Australian State of Victoria, were able to support the Fiji Parliament research team over the past few days through virtual means.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank our partner Parliaments for their readiness to lend their support to the exercise – I know their officers have also greatly benefitted from the exercise.
This year, for the first time, the information package includes cross-cutting thematic briefings on key development areas for Fiji, such as the gender-responsiveness of the national budget.
Ladies and gentlemen:
The partnership developed between UNDP, Parliament and the Civil society in today’s workshop has been made possible through the generous assistance of our donors: the government of Japan, the government of New Zealand, the government of Australia and the European Union. We thank them for their steadfast commitment to supporting parliamentary development efforts and strengthening of public financial management in Fiji and in the Pacific region.
I wish you a very informative and enriching session and wish you the best in your discussions.