SADC Parliamentarians at the National Focus Group in of the Parliament of Zambia.
On the weekend of 24-26 February 2017, AWEPA hosted the third National Focus Group of the project, Strengthening SADC parliamentary engagement in the budget process, in Chisamba, Zambia. Participants included Chairpersons of parliamentary committees, long tenured MPs and staff, including the Deputy Clerk.
The National Focus Group was opened and objectives clarified by Hon. Kabanda, the Chairperson of the Committee on Local Government. These included (a) to clarify understanding among Members and staff on the parliament’s role in the budget process, and share related information; (b) to facilitate reflection on parliament’s current oversight function in the budget process with a view towards future strengthening; and (c) to begin the process of collaboratively identifying and evaluating strategies of engagement in the budget process, in preparation for the Regional Seminar planned for May 2017.
The Focus Group was structured by the categories of data collected by the AWEPA team in November, 2016, including discussion on the history of the parliament, time available for budgetary engagement, and staff capacity, to name just a few. The last session was structured as one in which a ‘Way Forward’ was plotted with the combined input from all participants and aggregated from suggested action points raised in previous sessions.
The Focus Group presented a unique opportunity for staff and MPs to dedicate time to reflecting on how the parliament was engaging in the budget. This was done by looking to its historical development as well as looking forward – to where it would like to see itself. Among MPs present and the staff, there was overwhelming desire to strengthen the extent and quality of engagement at the formulation and implementation stages of the budget. One of the final questions posed by AWEPA was whether the parliament was working to increase its engagement in the budget in order to influence it or rather, in order to understand the budget better to facilitate better monitoring and scrutiny. One of the budget office staff responded that the two aims were not mutually exclusive, “as one understands the budget for monitoring and scrutiny, we expect better budget outcomes, and therefore, do influence the budget.”
At the end, a list of nineteen action points was compiled and adopted by those present, to work towards implementation in the parliament. The process was confirmed to be officially sanctioned by the Speaker, which confirmed the legitimacy of the process.