The 4th Regional Meeting of the Working Group on the Governance of Public Finance held in the framework of the Good Governance for Development (GfD) in Arab Countries Initiative, took place in Rabat, Morocco on 20 May 2008. The meeting was hosted by Mr. Abdellatif Bennani, Budget Director in the Moroccan Ministry of Economics and Finances.
The main objectives of the fourth regional Working Group meeting were to:
Keep participants informed on the achievements and activities of the Working Group in the past year;
Exchange experiences and innovative approaches on public financial management;
Decide on the launching of a regional Senior Budget Officials Network for the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA SBO);
Identify thematic priorities for the MENA SBO and agree on specific activities to be carried out within the MENA SBO in the coming years.
Outcomes/Content of discussions and policy dialogue
Confirmation of the Working Programme for the coming years
Participating countries agreed on the programme of work for the coming years and thereby confirmed the thematic priorities as identified at the previous working group meeting. The themes below shall be retained for policy dialogue and analysis within the Working Group during the coming years: Performance budgeting clearly ranks above all other themes. Comprehensiveness of the budget ties for second place with multi-year expenditures framework and its uses. The following themes were of interest only to a minority of countries or are ranked much lower than the preceding four by most: a) market mechanisms and their use for public service delivery; b) cash management and allocation systems; c) debt management and management of temporary revenues from petroleum; d) legal frameworks to give a permanent character to financial management reforms.
Given the problems faced by many MENA countries following the explosive increases in the prices of commodities whose consumption is heavily subsidised in their domestic markets (oil, gaz, basic food staples), delegates requested that ways to face up to the budgetary consequences of such shocks be examined as a matter of emergency at the next meeting. They specially wanted more information on possibilities for hedging in futures markets and to know more on how to reduce subsidisation expenditures while mitigating the attendant social consequences of such cut-backs.
Creation of a MENA Senior Budget Officials Network (MENA SBO)
The delegates of the Working Group confirmed their unanimous support for the creation of a regional Senior Budget Officials network for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA SBO). At the third Regional Meeting of the Working Group on the Governance of Public Finances on 30 May 2007 in Istanbul, participating OECD and Arab delegates had agreed to establish a permanent SBO Regional Network for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), attracting Senior Budget Officials from OECD countries and from the MENA region.
At this year’s working group meeting, delegates agreed to officially launch the MENA SBO network at a high-level meeting on 24-25 November 2008 in Cairo, Egypt. (add hyperlink to MENA SBO MEETING) The MENA SBO will emerge from the Working Group on the Governance of Public Finances of the Good Governance for Development in Arab Countries Initiative. Senior officials from OECD and Arab countries have regularly met since 2005 to address a wide variety of budget and public expenditure issues within this Working Group that is chaired by H.E. Mr. Yousef Boutros Ghali, Egyptian Minister of Finance and co-chaired by the Netherlands and the United States. The MENA SBO network will add value to the activities undertaken within the Working Group by institutionalising collaboration between Senior Budget Officials from OECD countries and other SBO networks.
The objective of the MENA SBO is to create a permanent forum for regular exchange based on the same principles as the SBO networks which have been established in Asia, Latin America and South Eastern Europe on the model of the original SBO network made up of OECD countries.
The key to the success of the SBO networks elsewhere has been a culture of informal professionalism and mutual support. The payoff to participants is the timely and objective reporting on innovations and alternative practices in budgetary and financial management. The work of the MENA SBO network could also help compile and disseminate comparable data on the budget process in Arab countries.
The MENA SBO network will organise regional thematic meetings on subjects which budget practitioners wish to examine in depth. These meetings will put emphasis on implementation techniques and lessons.
Some MENA countries participating in the MENA SBO network could conduct progress reports on their national budget system. These progress reports would be based on expert analysis, peer comments from other MENA countries, and group discussions within the MENA SBO. The progress reports could focus specifically on change initiatives underway or recently carried out within MENA countries. The progress report would describe the achievements, trends and key issues related to policy implementation.
The MENA SBO network could also collect comparable data on distinctive aspects of the budget process in some Arab countries to be included in the progress report about governance in Arab countries discussed at the last Steering Committee at technical level of the GfD Initiative.