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PARLIAMENTARY BUDGET OFFICES


term time horizons and financial modelling through NPVs and other projection methodologies were also covered in this presentation.


Former Parliamentary Budget Officer


Canada’s former Parliamentary Budget Officer, Mr Page, shared his experience in launching and maintaining Canada’s PBO over the previous five years.


Zimbabwean Parliament “remained disempowered technically to assert its role in public finance management”, and furthermore “the shortage of funds has proven to be a major constraint”.


Participants from three other Commonwealth nations, South Africa, Ghana and Kenya first shared their opinions and insights, suggesting that Zimbabwe draw from the Kenyan model, which was dealing with a new constitution. Also, it was important to watch post-election developments in Zimbabwe, and have more players play a bigger oversight role. Other southern African representatives suggested greater cooperation with the parliamentary bodies of neighbouring countries..


Further technical assistance from the Canadian PBO The Canadian delegation made two supplementary presentations that were more technical and performance-oriented in nature, pertaining to improving access to data and improving analytical tools in the budget process.


With respect to improved access to data, stress was centred on the following elements: flexibility of approach (pursuing alternative methods of obtaining data, offering alternatives when stonewalled); seeking assistance (judicial and parliamentary); and above all,


developing strong informal working relationships at all levels. The importance of the “human element” cannot be overemphasized in PBO research.


With respect to improving budget analysis tools, the areas covered included budget analysis,


“Delegates showed a willingness to assist one another in the establishment of PBOs and in sharing what they had learned and drawn from their personal experiences.”


tax analysis, estimates analysis, and costing models. Various options for forecasting and financial modelling were studied.


The emphasis was placed on the power of simplicity, for example: the Philips Curve and the Taylor Rule were both functions of a mere handful of variables, but could have significant implications pertaining to interest rate and inflation projections. Related parameters such as short- and long-


Describing his job as the five richest years of his 30 year career, he drew applause from the audience when he framed the role of the PBO in the grander scheme of things. He asked “what institutions are we leaving to our kids? What is our hand-off in transparency to the next generation?” Mr Page also stated that “the future is not secrecy, the future is transparency; we are helping create the future”.


He put things into context for delegates saying that “in my time, trust has never been lower in institutions, and reiterated it was not possible to “put a price tag or monetary value to the good that we do”. Referencing Acemoglu and Robinson’s book Why Nations Fail, he pointed to one of three factors that crippled prosperity, namely when Legislatures could not hold the executive to account. This in effect highlighted the importance of PBOs as they strengthened Legislatures to contributing to the very essence of prosperity.


Sharing his wisdom with the audience, Mr Page succinctly outlined four overarching lessons from his PBO career, namely: looking for advice early; doing quality work (“that is your insurance at the end of the day”); communicating effectively and explaining what you’re doing (“don’t be the dog barking at the moon”); and to develop a thick skin, as confrontations with government were par for the course in the job. He thanked participants for their support and highlighted the importance of the WBI, McGill University, the IMF, and other institutions in promoting PBO initiatives, and concluded on the optimistic note that the future of PBOs was extremely bright.


Building the PBO Community of Practice


In light of the aforementioned activities and initiatives undertaken at the Montreal seminar, the principal task of forging a strong Community of Practice, driven by members and leveraging efficient tools and technology came to the fore. Members voted on numerous aspects of the community in order to espouse strong identification with the entity right from its inception. Ms Lisa von Trapp presented the model of PBOs among member countries of the OECD and spoke to the different mechanisms and standards that could help engender an effective Community of Practice at the Montreal Seminar.


The delegates broke off into five working groups that addressed various aspects of the community, including its mandate, activities, networking capabilities, and deliverables.


The working groups presented their findings and a timeline was drawn out which assigned various tasks to participants over a 12-18 month horizon going forward. Thus, the Global Network of Parliamentary Budget Offices was born.


Concluding remarks The Montreal seminar was a healthy example of generous collaboration and active participation by Commonwealth members who, despite facing country-specific challenges, shared the ideals of fostering a dynamic Community of Practice that transcended international boundaries.


Delegates showed a willingness to assist one another in the establishment of PBOs and in sharing what they had learned and drawn from their personal experiences. The GNPBO promises to forge a highly interactive and cooperative community that will bolster inter-Commonwealth and international efforts to improve legislative transparency through independent and diligent Parliamentary Budget Offices in years to come.


The Parliamentarian | 2013: Issue Three | 201


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