Follow the Money Sudan's Parliament and UNDP Working Together for Accountability
Recently, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with the National Assembly's Economic and Finance Affairs organized a two- day training workshop on "Financial Monitoring: The Relationship between the Parliament and other Financial Oversight Institutions" aimed at developing and activating parliamentarians' financial oversight role and skills.
Parliaments are the first regulators of government's performance, exercising a primary oversight role and prompting the implementation of social accountability and transparency in modern institutions. This important role placed National and Local Legislative Assemblies at the heart of democratic governance practices.
The training was attended by a number of stakeholders including participants from Parliament, academia and representatives from numerous executive bodies such as the Ministry of Interior and the National Audit Chamber. The technical presentations and discussions called upon improving the financial oversight in Sudan in an efficient, neutral and credible manner.
Regarding the issue of neutrality of the Auditor General, Deputy Auditor General for Quality Assurance and Development, Dr. Mohamed Abdelhafiez stated that "Any hospitality from the auditees (audited institutions) might affect our independence. This might imply passing certain cases of public funds mismanagement that might not satisfy our performance measures. There is always a need to do better and do more. We have to confess that there are irregularities and assaults on public money; however, some of these cases are not all entirely intended. Therefore, we must develop an awareness campaign to include knowledge and orientation on the optimal use of public funds". Dr. Abdelhafiez further clarified, "Let me also take this opportunity to clarify that there is no direct link between the Auditor General and the internal audit of institutions. In case of any offenses relating to the misuse of public money, they should report to the Auditor General and then it is our duty to investigate and verify any deficiency in the performance."
In the discussions and background papers, certain challenges were highlighted such as the absence of coordination among several oversight and financial monitoring institutions. Other issues were also thoroughly discussed including the late submission of the annual budgets from the respective line ministries and the un-justified budget deviations which need to be technically addressed for better oversight and financial monitoring. The participants and experts called for a unified system for fiscal data monitoring and disclosure between Ministry of Finance and the National Economy on one hand and the Central Bank of Sudan, on the other. Successful experiences of countries such as Morocco and Turkey in the implementation of proper financial systems via budgetary supervision were also presented.
Chairman of the Economic and Finance Committee in the National Assembly Dr. Omer Ali Al-Amin, remarked: "The standardization of the ministerial budget should be strictly followed by all line ministries. I believe, from now on we need to reject all late submissions (beyond the first quarter) of annual budgets from any line ministry. Not only reject the budget on ground of late submission, but also the respective ministry should be questioned."
Citizens' involvement and their oversight role were also touched upon during the discussions. Participants stressed the need to ensure proper information flow to the public and called for a constructive relationship between the media and MPs to ensure accessibility and transparency of information, noting that sustainable change requires stronger participation of all segments of society to the decision-making processes to ensure equitable development.
Haleema Hasaballa, a woman parliamentarian who attended the workshop remarked, "We have witnessed the development of the National Audit Chamber to become one of the significant financial control mechanisms in the country," However, according to Haleema certain limitations impose themselves "As parliamentarians we have the responsibility to speak on behalf of the citizens who elected us to represent them and safeguard their interest. Does the tax payer reap services in return? It is inevitable to bring under control all agencies that take tax and provide no services in return; if the citizen gets services in return, the tax revenue will increase automatically." She added. Currently 25% of Parliament seats are occupied by women.
In addition to this initiative, UNDP has been supporting several other initiatives to foster transparent governance through strengthening institutional mechanisms and systems in Sudan. It was until 2012, when UNDP introduced "The Accountability and Citizens Participation" project with the aim to align the state's interest with citizens' aspirations. Specifically, the project aims to promote citizens' participation in the political and economic decision making in Sudan. The main focus is to enable the legislative assemblies, the National Audit Chamber, political parties and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to provide proper oversight function through empowering relationships between the centre and the periphery and strengthening accountability.
Since its launch in 2012, this project provided training to over 200 members of the elected assemblies to enhance skills required for reviewing plans and budgets control and improving public budget oversight. The project has also supported the National Audit Chamber staff to develop skills in new methods of auditing and the usage of IT in auditing. At the same time, it advocates for greater role of civil society organizations in both political and economic issues. In this respect, the project supported the first ever forum on the role of the CSOs in the budget making process in Sudan, exploring ways on how citizens can influence budget priorities, which was attended by 180 CSOs members.