The implementation status of 71 per cent of the highest value expenditure proposals in Interim Budget 2022 – with an allocation of LKR 46.8 billion – remains unknown, according to Verité Research.
Verité Research has been tracking the progress of budget promises since 2017, and Interim Budget 2022 has the largest proportion of proposals for which information was not provided.
On average, information was not disclosed to assess progress of 38 per cent of the expenditure proposals between 2017-2021.
For most of the Interim Budget 2022 proposals, no information was provided by the government agencies, even for requests made under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. This has been a continuing trend since 2017.
The Interim Budget 2022 assessment tracked 24 expenditure proposals made in the budget speech, with a total allocation of LKR 50.5 billion. Information received was sufficient to assess the progress of seven proposals, and the assessment revealed that only one proposal had been fulfilled as of 31 December 2022.
The findings are published on the ‘Budget Promises’ dashboard housed under the publicfinance.lk platform of Verité Research.
The assessments over the years reveal that a key factor that contributes to poor disclosure of progress is the confusion over who is responsible for implementation of the proposals.
The National Budget Department (NBD) of the Ministry of Finance is responsible for budget implementation but is not fully aware of the agencies responsible for the implementation of proposals. For example, the agencies identified by the NBD as being responsible for implementation claimed they are not responsible for the implementation of 17 out of the 24 proposals tracked.
This indicates one of two possibilities:
1) the NBD, which is responsible for the estimation and appropriation of public finance resources, is unaware who the implementing agencies are or
2) the agencies are not aware that they are responsible for the implementation of these proposals. Both possibilities raise serious concerns about the accountability of the government in delivering promises made by the Minister of Finance in his budget speech in Parliament.
The Interim Budget 2022 was presented at a crucial juncture in Sri Lanka’s history, where the country was mired in an economic crisis unlike any it has faced since independence. The budget strived to provide hope by promising to lay the foundation to change the economic trajectory of the country.
These findings raise doubts as to whether Sri Lanka can genuinely expect a sustainable change in its economic trajectory without addressing the core problem that led to the crisis; lack of transparency and accountability in how the government manages the public funds.
The importance of enhancing fiscal transparency to reduce corruption vulnerabilities and restore long-term economic and political stability has been highlighted in Sri Lanka’s commitments with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Increasing transparency about how the government spends public funds is a critical step in achieving these goals.