Keep a close eye on budget transparency in public school
Transparent handling of public money is important in resource-stripped context. It checks the wasteful spending of public resources and maximises result-oriented utilization. Budget openness therefore is critically important for the governments to pursue their overarching policy goals in a limited resource.
Education is one of the key priority areas of Nepal to realize the constitutionally-guaranteed citizens’ fundamental rights to attain compulsory and free education. Article 31 of the Constitution has guaranteed citizen’s right to access basic education stating that every citizen shall have the right to get compulsory and free education up to the basic and secondary level from the state. The public school is enshrined as one of the instrumental state mechanisms in realizing the educational responsibility.
In accordance with the statutory provision, the management of public school has come under local government’s authority. Schedule 8 of the statute lists basic and secondary education under the jurisdiction of the local government which means it has the authority to govern school education.
With the statutory devolution of power to the local levels of Nepal, the utilization of public resources at local government in many affairs including education has increasingly become a matter of public concern and debate. As education is one of the critical areas of human development and well-being, the public scrutiny for effective utilization of financial resources in school is gaining ground.
Budget transparency in public school involves making public all the relevant fiscal information of the institution and allowing participation of citizens’ representatives to see and oversee the formulation, approval, execution and monitoring of school budget. Budget openness as key accountability mechanism enables greater citizen engagement and oversight in decision-making process related to resources.
The issues of budget transparency, civic engagement and effective oversight in public schools should therefore be widely debated. It is critically important to translate the constitutionally-guaranteed fundamental right to actions in limited resources which however has been reflected constantly in the national budgets for the past four years.
It is often noted that there are less systematic practices of budget formulation, approval, execution and auditing in public school structure, which limits opportunities to effectively manage resources and influence results. With the new accountability mechanism to look after the school from the local government, it is taking time to put in place structures for monitoring the people and process involved in budgetary matters including procurements in school. The mechanisms through which school funding is governed, distributed and monitored play a key role in ensuring that resources are directed to where they can make the most difference.
According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), school systems have limited financial resources with which to pursue their objectives and the design of school funding policies plays a key role in ensuring that resources are directed to where they can make the most difference. It means that public school is one of the critical areas of governance which requires constant civic engagement and oversight for reforms.
Globally education is taken as key dimension for assessing capability and development of the country. Budget transparency in public schools therefore emerges as an issue of governance since it does not only witness bigger chunk of money (10.68 percent of national budget in the fiscal year 2019/20) in comparison to other sectors but also directly affects the lives of many students, the future helmsmen of the country.
Nevertheless, the budgetary allocation to education sector alone has decreased in Nepal over the years. The volume of the education budget which reached 17.1 percent against the national budget in 2011/12 has declined by 7 percent since then. As per the commitment made by the government in international forums, the education budget should be at least 20 percent of public national budget, states ‘Financing Gap in Education’ report-2018 produced by National Campaign for Education. It is evident to the fact that the size of public resources for education is shrinking over the years, which also has direct bearing on school education.
The problem lies in inadequate understanding and coordination among actors and stakeholders concerned including local government officials, school authorities (principal, office-bearers of school management committee and finance staffs) concerned, oversight bodies (Parents Association, media and elected-people representatives) on budget openness. The practice of systematic disclosure of disaggregated budgetary information of the schools related to grants/revenue, expenditure, enrolment, scholarship distribution and entitlements are yet to be put in place. It limits transparent practices. So, transparency within the school (school management committee, teachers and parents) and beyond the school (CSOs, academia, media) is a pertinent issue to be discussed.
Budget in public schools matters most to the poor and marginalized sections of society so it holds importance to effectively run community schools to realize the constitutional provisions for providing compulsory and free education. Unless citizens or stakeholders do not get opportunity to participate in the budgetary process, possible mismanagement of public funds in schools cannot be checked.
Education is considered a government responsibility and one of its main items of expenditure. Education budgets, therefore, have to meet ever-growing needs. Effective systems of public financial management (PFM) can contribute to providing better inputs and improving accountability.
Hence, this is opportune time to intensify the public debate on school governance, particularly budget openness, before things go wrong. The time is also equally relevant as the legal and institutional mechanisms to govern public schools are in the making.
The writer is pursuing his MPhil Degree at Kathmandu University School of Education, Hattiban.
Published on 18 September 2019
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