Johannesburg, South Africa – AWEPA recently introduced its new programme, Strengthening SADC Parliamentary Engagement in the Budget Cycle. The first programme activity, a research coordination meeting, was held in Johannesburg on the 24-26 February 2016.
The aim of the meeting was to examine and share the programme with partners and the donor, the UK Department for International Development (DFID). Attendees included parliamentary delegates from Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Namibia, as well as experts such as Dr. Robert Mattes, a seasoned expert in democracy in Africa; Dr. Shane Martin, a legislative studies expert; and Dr. Joachim Wehner, a public policy expert. Also present was Ms. Nicole Neuss, Governance Advisor: Southern Africa for DFID. The programme represents the first partnership between AWEPA and DFID.
The purpose of the coordination meeting was to engage with the programme rationale and upcoming procedures, and learn from the wealth of knowledge provided by parliamentarians interested in the budget process and academics in the fields of political science, public policy and legislative studies.
During the meeting, it became clear that parliaments in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region needed to first come to terms with their budgetary involvement in the past and carefully assess their current processes prior to establishing future objectives. It also emerged that despite the vast similarities among the SADC parliaments, significant differences exist, and that these differences need to be respected and translated into learning opportunities.
The discussions revealed that these parliaments have come a long way in their institutional development and that there is still ample room for capacity support. Furthermore, the dynamic discussions on the research approach provided the AWEPA team with guidance on how best to proceed with the research portion of the programme.
It was generally agreed that there was no ‘best model ‘for parliamentary engagement with the budget cycle and that coming up with one was not part of the programme’s objectives. But rather, the objective was to document the different models that exist and empower the parliaments with the information they need to proceed with their own budgetary developments with confidence.
The meeting resulted in strong support from both the parliaments involved and the academics around the table. All players left with an appetite to get started with the research and the collaborative process overall, as well as to contribute to the programme’s aims.
The participation of highly ranked members of parliament, subject matter expects and parliamentary capacity development practitioners led to high caliber discussions and useful feedback and information. All stakeholders expressed a keen interest in the peer to peer regional learning seminars, which additional parliaments are expected to join.
The unique multi-stakeholder composition of the meeting was a valuable exercise in trust building and multi-level participatory planning. The experts were confident that the data that was to be collected was unique. They also agreed to provide additional guidance whenever it is needed. This will ensure that the information that is distributed if of high quality and relevance.
The AWEPA Strengthening SADC Parliamentary Engagement in the Budget Cycle programme aims to encourage SADC parliaments to reflect on their engagement in budget process overall, and the ex-ante phase in particular. Ultimately, the programme is expected to facilitate a budget process in parliament that takes into account both independent comparative information and country needs. By applying such an approach, the parliaments selected for the programme can position themselves as champions of the sustainable management of public resources, towards poverty reduction.