A progressive budgeting policy used by the Education Ministry has overloaded local administrators with paperwork for which they often lack the expertise, according to a new report, which found the system was less efficient in 2014 than the year before.
Released by the NGO Forum, and funded by Save the Children, the study analysed the Education Ministry’s program-based budget (PB) for 2014 – about $42.5 million of the total $330 million budget.
Though the PB system – which was extended this year to include the entire education budget of $391 million, and that of nine other ministries – had produced “concrete progress” in spending efficiency, it had also increased the bureaucratic burden for those at the bottom, the report found.
“It is a good thing to move to program-based budgets, but one not-so-favourable consequence of that is the amount of paperwork that the school level and district level have to meet; they have to produce a lot of reporting both on the expenditure and on the result,” said researcher Pak Kimchoeun.
Partially implemented in 2007 to improve efficiency and accountability, the PB system allocates specific sums of cash that can only be spent in certain areas and cannot be rolled over to the next financial year.
For education, until 2015, this covered mainly operational costs for schools.
Last year, only 82 per cent of the total PB was spent compared to 93 per cent in 2013, the report found.
But the drop was largely because the ministerial level had “problems with procurement” rather than schools getting worse at spending.
Local accounting staff faced a number of challenges in implementing the policy, not least of which was the lack of computer skills among grassroots civil servants, many of whom are nearing retirement age.
Problems also arose from the system’s rigidity and mismatches between schools’ needs and their allocations.
The checks and balances also impacted the timeliness of fund disbursements to schools, something Battambang education department director Ngy Seth attested to.
“When the PB came late, teachers found it hard to run their class, and this partly affected their teaching as well.”
This year, the ministry has plans to further streamline the process, including by transferring funds to districts via banks to increase efficiency.