As part of a small but growing collaboration between McGill University and the World Bank Institute, the International Management Institute in the Bronfman Building played host to Parliamentary Budget Officers, parliamentarians, academics and other experts from over a dozen countries for the "Seminar on Open Government, Information and Budget Transparency", held between June 17-19, 2013.
McGill University has had a long history of fruitful collaboration in a vast spectrum of global initiatives, but one truly striking partnership is our budding engagement with the global institutions that are striving towards better global governance. Specifically, the effort to improve governance through Parliamentary Budget Offices (PBOs), an increasingly successful model for greater parliamentary accountability, has come to the fore as an area where McGill and Desautels are beginning to step in to do their part through highly multifaceted cooperation. In this regard, McGill’s collaboration with the World Bank and with Parliamentary Budget Offices around the world – led by Rick Stapenhurst, Professor of Practice at McGill’s Institute for the Study of International Development (ISID) and lecturer at Desautels - culminated in an extremely important seminar which assembled luminaries in the field of PBOs; the event was co-funded by the World Bank Institute and the Social Science Research Council. The significance of this seminar can be seen through the coming to fruition of the Community of Practice, where participants in the seminar unanimously agreed to form a symbiotic community, baptized as the Global Network of Parliamentary Budget Officers (GNPBO), that would allow for dynamic information-sharing between members using a variety of cutting-edge tools and collaborative mechanisms.
As a participant in this seminar, supported by a grant from the World Bank and ISID, I was able to view firsthand the obstacles confronted by PBOs as well as the initiatives undertaken to surmount these challenges. One of the principal hinderances that afflicts all Parliamentary Budget Offices today is the dearth of opportunities to share their experiences and ideas with other another. As the process of establishing a Budget Office can be arduous and politically sensitive, PBO officials need all the help they can get, and who better to stand by them than well-meaning PBOs from other countries? Mutually beneficial learning was the shared goal that galvanized all the delegates as they recognized the universality of the issues confronting the viability of their Budget Offices. Members approached the seminar in a highly collaborative manner as they exhibited an eagerness to offer assistance in the formation and management of their PBOs, through the sharing of both experience and technical expertise. To this effect, "Seminar on Open Government, Information and Budget Transparency" in the Bronfman Building provided a forum for knowledge exchange between PBOs and identified a roadmap for the Community of Practice going forward.
Among the highlights of the seminar were the three “Case Clinics” for Nigeria, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, which were created to channel the energies of the seminar delegates towards tackling country-specific challenges, by drawing on their personal expertise and on the institutional memory of their national PBOs. In my work with the Zimbabwe case clinic, I was able to observe the strong solidarity between delegates as they brainstormed solutions for the implementation of a PBO structure in Zimbabwe’s parliamentary mechanism. We drew from the experiences of countries with similar political and geographic circumstances to create a comprehensive list of recommendations for establishing the PBO. All of the participants in the case clinic, not least the Zimbabwean delegation, expressed satisfaction at the exchange of views and inputs that transpired throughout the case clinic.
A major feature of the collaborative environment fostered at the seminar was the imperative of engaging the delegates in a participatory manner as they gave shape to the GNPBO Community of Practice. To harmonize expectations and assign tasks to member delegates, a roadmap was constructed which delineated the sequence of actions GNPBO would be executing. In order to formulate this roadmap, working groups were create to assess the tasks relevant to the various facets of the Community of Practice. I was assigned to the working group assessing the accessibility protocols of the online platform (ePBO) that the GNPBO will use, examining various functionalities pertaining to security, privacy and access to information. We sought to find solutions that would facilitate the harmonious interaction of PBOs and a free-flow of ideas without compromising the security and the integrity of the Budget Office community. The findings of our working groups were later presented and synthesized to form the underlying timeline for the Community of Practice going forward.
It is evident from the aforementioned activities that the formation of the GNPBO is a great leap forward for collaboration between global Parliamentary Budget Offices. A new structure was constituted at the seminar for PBOs to broadly enhance their interactivity and to fill the void in cooperation that the PBOs had voiced as a hindrance to their operational progress. The Bronfman Building played host to the Community of Practice’s creation; the establishment of a mechanism that will guide many key Budget Office initiatives and thus contribute significantly to improved global governance practices. This event was a testament to McGill’s and Desautels’ commitment to a budding partnership with global governance institutions, and a tribute to the possibilities of Desautels’ enhanced participation in initiatives to strengthen governance worldwide in the years to come.
Usman W. Chohan is an MBA candidate at the Desautels Faculty of Management with a concentration in Strategy and Leadership. His areas of interest include Parliamentary Budget Offices, anti-corruption initiatives, and parliamentary reform. He previously served as the Special Situations Analyst in the Global Equities Team at Natcan Investment Management, the investment arm of the National Bank of Canada.
- Article by Usman W. Chohan