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Sierra Leone News: MOFED lags in fiscal transparency

Abu Bakarr KamaraThe Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MOFED) is lagging behind in their responsibility towards the implementation of their commitment to fiscal transparency and open budgets in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) National Action Plan II (NAP II).
The first monitoring scorecard of the Budget Advocacy Network (BAN) indicated that MOFED with almost a year and half gone into the NAP II implementation has failed to complete its milestones set to make budget data (pre-budget statement and mid-year reports), Parliament audit committee reports and tax exemptions, publicly available and increase citizens participation in the budget process.
Abu Bakarr Kamara, BAN Coordinator said that they are disappointed especially when the President said that the public should be monitors of the country finances. “How can that happen when financial information is not in the public domain?”
The Ministry has four milestones to complete by June 2018. With only seven months left for implementation; only one milestone has been substantially completed. This has to do with the publishing of detailed feedback on how public perceptions have been captured and taken into account on the budget discussion process during the formation stage. This report is now available on the Ministry’s website.
MOFED should be publishing in a timely manner the budget reports each budget year, the MTEF and a mid-year review as these two reports are still not yet published (pre-budget for 2017 and 2018 and mid-year review budget for 2016, 2017, and 2018).
In line with the Public Financial Management Act 2016, MOFED should publish all tax exemptions on a half yearly basis starting from 2016, on the government website. They have the data on all exemptions granted but what remains is the will to publish such information. They have failed to publish all tax exemptions granted in 2016 and first half of 2017.
Kamara said that in 2013 they published a report titled, “Losing Out” wherein they estimated that Sierra Leone is losing $224 million USD annually from tax incentives. “That money at that time is eight times the education budget, plus seven times the health budget.” He added that “because of that during the development of the NAP II we agreed especially for MOFED to be publishing on a half yearly basis all tax exemptions given to various groups,” he said.
One of the reasons for this commitment is not just for the big companies, but for international NGOs that are granted tax exemptions as per the Geneva Convention. “One argument brought in during the discussion was that some INGOs will come for some tax exemptions because they have that status, but then the purpose of that is not being used as per what the exemption is being granted.”
The idea of publishing that information is for citizens to have access and check if an INGO received tax exemptions and the purpose. “If they receive it for used clothing for certain vulnerable groups and that fact is in the domain of the public they will be able to check whether that vulnerable group indeed received the said consignment. Tax exemptions are part of government’s own contribution.”
Tax exemptions publication should include an estimate of the total amount of revenue losses attributable to all tax exemptions from various revenue sectors, both public and private.
They are to also publish budget data (a pre-budget statement, the executive’s budget proposal, the enacted budget, a citizen’s budget, in-year reports on revenues collected, expenditures made and debt incurred, a mid-year review, year-end report and audit reports) online and in a machine-readable format.
Kamara noted that with the recent Budget Speech, the FSS and Budget Profile were all in PDF format. “It is difficult for you to use that information to do a thorough analysis, you will have to type everything and you may be liable to make mistakes. So we say publish them in a machine readable format like Word or Excel; with Excel you can quickly do analysis.”
By Zainab Joaque
Monday November 20, 2017.

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