June 2nd, 2015

Most govt reports do not deal with policies’ budgetary impact

By Goh Li Sian, Research and Advocacy Coordinator, AWARE

budgetWe thank the Ministry of Finance (MOF) for its reply (“Government agencies regularly publish reports on their performance”; May 13) to our letter, and for informing us and the public of a number of reports published by government agencies.

While these reports provide some helpful information, they do not tend to address the impact of budgetary policies per se. The statistics referenced in most of these reports relate to the social phenomena within these ministries’ remit, such as the level of crime or number of workplace accidents, rather than the allocation of expenditure under specific initiatives and policies.

The ComCare Annual Report is a welcome exception, as it shows how much money is given out under the various ComCare schemes. However, these statistics could be more comprehensive, since figures on the number of applications received are not released. In fact, a question on the acceptance rate of ComCare applications was raised in Parliament in 2013, indicating that such figures are not released regularly.

Furthermore, the statistics in the reports mentioned by the ministry tend to be given at a high level of generality. There is little disaggregation by characteristics such as gender, age, and race or ethnicity, which are especially important variables when designing social policy.

In addition, while it was helpful to receive a list of reports in response to our query, to improve transparency and public access to information even further, perhaps the MOF or the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth could also take on the tasks of maintaining a centralised list of reports. This list should be prominent and accessible to the public.

There is a precedent for this in some areas. The Ministry of Social and Family Development, for instance, maintains a webpage with links to all state reporting on the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. This promotes transparency on the state’s progress on fulfilling its international commitments under this treaty.

The public should have ready access to a detailed breakdown of the programmes administrated by each ministry — both ongoing as well as newly-announced Budget initiatives. There should be specific allocations cited for each priority named in the Budget speech, as well as a breakdown of the different sub-programmes and projects under total expenditure by programme.

A more systematic distribution of information for all aspects of the Government’s performance would help improve the quality of citizen participation in policymaking.

This letter was first published in TODAY Voices on 21 May 2015.

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