Mogadishu (UM) – The public hearing on the 2018 budget yesterday was an important step in the right direction. The hearing which was organised and led by the Parliamentary Committee on Finance brought together the Minister of Finance, Dr. Abdirahman D. Beileh and his senior management team as well as the public.
The public hearing is the second one to be held this year by the Finance Committee and this is the first time the Federal Minister of Finance has formally participated. In fact, this is the first time since the collapse of the central government in 1991 that a public hearing on the budget has been held.
The hearing saw Minister Beileh discuss the details of the 2018 and respond to questions from the Members of the Parliamentary Finance Committee. This event is usually part of a regular mundane process in most developed countries but in Somalia it is the beginning of the era of transparency, accountability and personal responsibility in public and private life.
The basis of democracy is accountability and the key pillar of national wealth is domestic revenue generation and internal and external investment. The Somali government has since 2012 been beating the drum for both but without much success given the inherent failure of political will to see vital reforms such as the Public Financial Management law through. Today, this law and many more have been approved by the Cabinet and only awaiting Parliamentary approval in most cases. However, legislation alone cannot reform Somalia’s finance sector and address the acute governance challenges. It is therefore important to focus on education and dialogue as a vehicle to advance the legislative agenda for successful implementation.
There is no area where good governance matters more than in finance, especially, in a recovering country like Somalia. The Ministry of Finance must be commended for raising domestic revenue, starting the biometric registration of soldiers, paying civil servants directly into bank accounts and paying for government services on time through a process of commitment control. Minister Beileh and his team have a right to be proud of these historic achievements. However, pride is usually short lived and if it is not followed through with consistent action in the way of reform then failure will inevitably result.
There are just too many advisers in Somalia but the voice that matters most for reforms is that of the Somali people. The Somali people are the greatest beneficiaries of all national progress and they must be respected, heard and their needs reflected clearly in all policies, including, the annual twice-yearly budget process.
The Somali Federal Government has prioritised domestic revenue generation and the expansion of the national commercial and personal tax base with the creation of more jobs and the strengthening of transparency and good governance. This strategy is not only wise but will lay the foundations for a successful fiscal federalism outcome and the enhancement of citizen’s trust in public fiscal management. Then, and only then, will the loud calls to pay taxes from the Ministry of Finance receive an overwhelmingly positive response from the Somali people and businesses. No tax without representation and no representation without public engagement and transparency.