The National Audit Office’s Report shows again and again that wastage and unnecessary expenditures have continued unabated. It is unacceptable that at a moment where everyone was bearing the brunt of the continuing global and the consequent local slowdown, our Ministries and Departments and State-owned enterprises were profligate with taxpayers’ money. We do finally come face to face with the stark fact – what most reports have rapidly glossed over or do not even bother to refer to – that not much has changed; it is the same old way of doing business, the only difference that, along the way, we have also learned how to pack the same old wine in new more attractive, catchy bottles. We make it look grandiose. Our policy makers introduced the Programme-Based Budgeting (PBB), a budget management process for enhancing fiscal discipline, bringing efficiency gains, greater accountability and promoting good governance in a more outcome-oriented public sector. The PBB which was implemented with a big-bang approach in 2007, against sound advice to proceed sequentially and gradually,  has continuously struggled in “deliverology” and it is now being acknowledged that it has turned out to be another wish-list. The Big-Bang approach, not anchored in local realities, has reduced the PBB to a mere arithmetical instrument without any usefulness to solve practical issues.
The programmes of  ministries were not aligned with their main objectives or functions. Ministries did not have strategic plans and that they could not use the PBB as a strategic policy-based tool. There wereno proper baseline budgeting methodology for the costing of programmes and sub-programmes.  We failed to move up the learning curve in fine tuning our PBB especially in ensuring that we are carrying out “real” performance budgeting – a PBB that  secures delivery of Government’s major domestic policy priorities. This means not just including performance information in budget documentation but linking expenditure to targeted results, reporting performance against these targets and using the information to make decisions on future resource allocation. Successful reform does not only require published targets but clear, specific definitions of success.  The PBB has remained very theoretical, a mere textbook exercise failing to deliver on,  for example, improving the performance of elementary schools, reducing wait times in our hospitals, bringing about major reductions in crime and ensuring punctuality and fluidity of our transport system. These are important to our citizens and would benefit most from a more intensive focus and drive for implementation. It is here that the PBB needed to deliver. We have had the wrong approach to the PBB, from a strategic point of view and, consequently, its implementation has suffered. We have looked at PBB as a tool for efficiency and effectiveness of the budget, but only through indicators. The preparation of the PBB document has wrongly been presented as a stand-alone document, unrelated to the priorities of the country and the operations of the organization.
 If the new Minister of Finance wants concrete results in terms of “deliverology”, he will have to carry out a total clean-up for a new team that understands the PBB and ensures that its implementation delivers on its promises- inter alia, limiting costs of new project proposals, restraining cost overruns (ranging up to 90 per cent) and reducing wastage and delays, which in turn were severely affecting the budgeting process and its outcomes.
The first step is to have good policies that can only result from proper analysis. Review sectoral policies and formulate 3-year strategic plans that are used as planning and management tools while ensuring that proper economic analysis of programmes and projects lead to the prioritization and the costing of programmes. This will form the basis of the policy rationales behind the ceilings and allow for greater acceptance of the ceilings by ministry policy makers.
No significant budgetary reforms are likely to succeed unless a robust and functioning accounting, reporting, monitoring, evaluation and implementation facilitator/delivering system is in place. And the second step is to upgrade the system of evaluation of projects and programs which is quite weak in many ministries. Evaluation generally takes the form of financial audits. Few examples of engineering and quality control assessments for major capital projects exist. Similarly, there are rare examples of cost effectiveness studies. The Project Plan Committee (PPC) unfortunately does not foot the bill. Attempting performance audit without agreed performance benchmarks and proper systems to record and track and evaluate performance is equally unlikely to be effective. These are some of the basics that must be satisfied for the PBB to be effective- “real” performance and policy-based budgeting – a PBB that secures delivery of government’s major domestic policy priorities.
As for our State-owned Enterprises,we can start by: (a) putting in place a transparent nomination process for the directors of boards. The key element of such a process should include developing clear selection criteria, professionalizing the nomination process and enhancing public scrutiny of the results; (b) establishing a framework for performance management. Government needs to develop a framework for communicating government’s expectations to each institution and to the public. The core of the process in most countries is the establishment of a performance agreement; (c) reviewing performance and holding institutions accountable, and (d) establishing performance incentives. E-governance must become the centre stage of our institutions to reduce physical contact and to enhance the quality of the delivery of our public services. This will also minimize opportunities for corruption.
The PBB approach needs to be thoroughly reviewed, but it should not be jettisoned.  PBB, when properly implemented with an effective monitoring and evaluation process, does confer greater accountability and transparency to fiscal management.The sad thing is that in the public sector, for the past seven years of PBB experimentation, we have had very few thinkers but a lot of loud speakers, especially at the Ministry of Finance. And the few thinkers that remain will either stop thinking out of frustration or just leave for greener pastures where they can be recognized.
So long as the values of Efficiency and Effectiveness, Good Governance, Ethics and  Accountability , as embedded in the PBB  APPROACH, will be  alien to  our culture, the  Audit  report will continue to be merely a strenuous expensive academic exercise. And the Business As Usual show will go on at the expense of public interests.