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Parliament and the budgetary process, including from a gender perspective.

Beirut (Lebanon), 22 - 24 June 2004

Rapporteur: Mr. Adnan Daher
Secretary General of the National Assembly of Lebanon

The Regional Seminar for Arab Parliaments entitled "Parliament, the Budgetary process and the Gender Perspective" was held in Beirut from 22 to 24 June 2004. This seminar was jointly organized by the Lebanese National Assembly and the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union, the United Nations Development Program and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

This event provided parliamentarians and parliamentary administrators from 17 Arab countries 1 with the opportunity to exchange views, to compare experiences and to deepen their understanding of the budgetary process and the tools that are at their disposal to make an effective contribution in this field. It is underscored the importance of ensuring that budgets take gender, or equality between men and women into consideration. The seminar discussed the means with which to consider the specific situation and interests of men and women in society.

The Seminar was inaugurated by Mr. Nabih Berri, the President of the Lebanese National Assembly, in the presence of the Minister of Finance, Mr. Fouad Sanouira.

The following experts took part:

  • Mr. Philippe Marini, Rapporteur of the Finance Committee of the French Senate
  • Mr. Jean-Jacques Viseur, Member of Parliament, Belgium
  • Mrs. Winnie Byanyima, Member of Parliament, Uganda
  • Mr. Adnan Daher, Secretary General of the Lebanese National Assembly
  • Mr. Nawfal Bennouna, expert, Morocco
  • Mr. Olivier Delamare-Deboutteville, Deputy Director of the International Relations Service of the French Senate
  • Mr. Rick Stapenhurst, expert in public administration, World Bank Institute
The discussions were held in joint plenary sittings and other sittings held in parallel for members of parliament and administrators. This report outlines some of the main themes covered, and is intended as a complement to the Handbook for Parliamentarians on Parliament, Budget, and Gender, which has been published by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the World Bank Institute.

The national budget is considered to be the most important statement of general policy that a government can make. It is the outline of the social and economic policy of the country.

It establishes the orientation of national policies and determines the framework for action and the financial implications of public programmes and projects during the fiscal year; it also identifies the resources required for their implementation.

The national budget is thus the basic indicator of what the Government does and of what objectives it has set.

The participants pointed to the fact that the budget is not an isolated event, but rather a process that takes place in several stages and over a more or less long period. These stages include: planning, drafting, consideration and adoption by parliament, implementation, submission of reports, and monitoring of the implementation, including audit. The participants also went over the main principals that should be respected in any budget, namely that it must be unitary, annual, specific and that no budget item should have an automatic claim to funding.

It is generally acknowledged that the budget is no longer a mere presentation of figures referring to receipts and expenditures, but rather an effective planning tool for development.

The participants noted with interest the reforms adopted in several countries, in particular in France, and Morocco, aimed at result-based budgeting, i.e. budgeting based on performance rather than on activities. Thus, the budget is evaluated according to the results that it makes it possible to achieve, such as the attainment of development objectives rather than by the activities carried out.

The budget must therefore be based on the logic of the effective allocation resources. Strategic planning raises the question of which objectives really must be met. In order to be effective, the budget must be a part of the strategic planning for a more or less long period.

The role of the parliament
The parliament has a triple role in the budgetary process:

  1. It participates in defining policy;
  2. It monitors government action;
  3. It ensures good governance and limits corruption.
As a whole, parliament contributes to transparency and responsible management of the state property, thus reducing waste.

In order for a parliament to function effectively, certain conditions must be met:

  • Autonomy of parliament
    This entails freedom of expression within the confines of the parliament and a budget which allows parliamentarians to have sufficient financial independence so that they are not constantly dependent on the executive branch.

  • Access to complete information
    The budget documents that are submitted by the Government must be complete, detailed and precise. The macroeconomic data annexed to them should come from government sources, but also from international sources independent from the executive. NGOs and universities are also important sources of information and analysis, to which parliaments can refer.

  • Competent and effective parliamentary staff
    Parliamentary staff must be secure in their jobs and be highly qualified. They should not be dependent on the executive branch, and must be capable of providing technical assistance to parliamentarians, particularly in respect of the budget.

  • Ability to amend the budget
    A parliament that is fully responsible for the budget must have the right to modify the budget through amendments.

  • The work must be public
    The best guarantee that parliament is doing the best possible job on the budget is provided when its work is public. The press has a major role to play in covering budget debates, explaining them to the man in the street and transforming them into fundamental political debates within the grasp of as many people as possible.
The participants noted with interest that in many countries the Government and parliament carry out constant consultations during all the stages of the budgetary process. In Sweden and France, the parliaments thus have an opportunity to carry out discussions and adopt opinions about their Governments’ policies about how they translate into the budgetary framework. The Swedish Parliament adopts an appropriation bill, or a law establishing the amount of the budget, before the budget in question is drawn up and submitted to the parliament by the Government.

In France, an organic law (LOLF 2001) strengthens the prerogatives of the parliament by enabling it to modify programme definitions, to change allocations between programmes, and by permitting parliament to carry out inquiries and to exercise oversight during the implementation stage. The aim is to make it possible to consider based on objectives, which are classified into missions, programmes and actions; it is also to foster the reform of the State and a simplification of state structures thanks to more effective parliamentary oversight.

In bicameral systems, the upper chamber generally plays an important role in the budgetary process, together with the lower chamber. It provides additional forum for consideration and discussion of the appropriations bill. As a general rule, when both chambers share responsibility for the budget, priority is given to the lower chamber.

The role of civil society
Openness to civil society and civil society’s contribution to the budgetary process enhance effectiveness and transparency. Civil society can help parliament to transform the concerns of certain sectors of society into effective policies, including budget policies. It is also a pool of expertise of which parliament can make good use. For example, civil society organizations can be independent and useful sources of information and analysis that help to shed light on the budgetary process. It is thus beneficial to involve them through consultations and public hearings.

Public debt and borrowing
Borrowing is often a significant budget resource. It makes it possible to mobilize the additional resources required for the social and economic development of a country. However, the share of borrowing in a budget must be reasonable and must not completely compromise future development. Each country must set an acceptable debt ceiling. Several participants expressed at the volume of public debt as compared to a country’s gross domestic product, and underscored the need for planning in order to reduce the debt burden. It was proposed to draw the attention of the developed countries to this issue.
The important role of parliament in the management of the public debt was noted. Generally, it is considered that parliament should be empowered to approve borrowing before it occurs, so as to provide it with legitimacy. Consequently, parliament should receive detailed information on the volume of the borrowing, its objective, its impact on the direct beneficiaries, both men and women, and on society as a whole; possible constraints; and the conditions imposed by lending establishments.
Parliamentarians should also make certain that government investments that are made possible by such borrowing are used on productive sectors.

Parliamentary oversight
The participants mentioned traditional means of direct oversight: questioning, question and answer sessions, hearings and commissions of inquiry.
Indirect oversight is exercised through audits and analysis reports, and through consideration of complaints and claims submitted by civil society. Such oversight should be carried out year-round. Regarding the internal oversight mechanisms, the participants noted that this is usually done by various committees. It was underlined that in many parliaments established on the Westminster model, Public Accounts Committees are usually chaired by a member of the opposition.

The participants also noted the functioning of the various institutions that contribute to budget oversight and implementation. Whether the Auditor General’s Office ( in the Anglo-Saxon system) or a Court of Audit is used, such bodies must sufficiently independent to operate without any pressure from the Government.

Oversight involves three main principles: efficiency, effectiveness, and economy, in the interests of transparency.

Gender perspective
The words "sex" and "gender" are not synonyms. The word "sex" refers to biological differences, while the word "gender" refers to relations between men and women and to social differences between men and women that have been acquired, that may change with time, and that vary widely both between countries and among the various cultures within a single country.
Gender analysis is a planning tool that serves the interest of everyone, men and women. A gender-sensitive budget is an economic analysis and an economic effectiveness tool. It in no way calls into question the country’s culture and traditions. Instead, it takes into account the specific contributions of men and women and their different needs in budgetary planning. It is a question of making the most of the complementarity between men and women.

Men and women play a significant role in the economy, although they have different responsibilities in economic activity and they are differently remunerated. When analyzing the state of men and women in the economy, three main sectors must be distinguished:

  • The structured economy: private and public remunerated activities. The remunerated activity is generally dominated by men.
  • The non- structured economy: small-scale activities based on work which is generally not remunerated, carried out by both men and women.
  • The "care" economy: this is mainly centered on households. It involves activities to reproduce and maintain the labor force and to provide care for the collectivity, the family (cooking, household chores, washing clothes, caring for children, the sick and the elderly). It is most often non-remunerated work, carried out by women. All other activities are dependent upon this sector.
In general, the "care" economy is neither accounted for nor taken into consideration in budgetary analysis. This negatively affects the efficiency of economic and budgetary policies.

What kind of budget takes gender into consideration?

  • It does not involve a separate budget for women;
  • It is a budget that encourages a more efficient use of resources in order to achieve equality between men and women and to ensure human development;
  • It is a budget that redefines priorities, rather than increasing government spending.
    Therefore, the main idea is that available resources should be used in a way to improve equitably the quality of life for both men and women. Indeed, it was noted that a gender-sensitive budget allows a country to benefit from all its human resources (men and women) in order to remain competitive in an increasingly globalised world.
Why we need a budget that takes gender into consideration
  • It is a matter of economic efficiency:
    Gender-sensitive budgets increase economic efficiency and contribute to social welfare. They are a reliable means to achieve the objectives of sound public management. Ignoring women’s roles in the economy and in society and their specific needs undermines the efficiency of certain public policies. Inequality between men and women can be costly not only for women but also for men, children and society as a whole. This cost may be reflected in reduced economic efficiency, lower productivity, less skill development among individuals and impaired social welfare.

  • It is a matter of rights:
    In addition, gender-sensitive budgets help governments to meet their commitments to ensure equality, as stated in the Beijing Platform for Action, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Millennium Development Goals.
How to develop a gender-sensitive budget

Any gender-sensitive budget must be based on a three-stage analysis of each economic sector: its situation, policies, and budget appropriations. It is also advisable to assess the impact of the budget expenditure on men and women separately. In order to contribute to gender equity within the framework of the budget, the parliament may insist that government ministers submit files outlining the impact on men and women of the measures that they propose. Parliament may also use studies commissioned by it to challenge or question the Government. Parliamentary oversight commissions can draw up lists of questions related to gender in various domains.

Follow-up to the seminar

Such seminars should be organized for members of parliament and parliamentary staff of the Arab countries at the national and regional levels. They should make use of the experience of the Arab countries in each of the domains concerned.

It is of the utmost importance that the participants share the benefits of the seminar with other parliamentarians and parliamentary staff in their national parliaments.