Each month, we shine a spotlight on partners who are using budget advocacy to bring transformational change to their communities. This month, we’re highlighting Bojan Paunovic, Director General at the Ministry of Finance/State Budget Directorate of Montenegro
This is the first year that Montenegro’s government has been part of the Open Budget Survey. How did this come about?
We have been interested in having this kind of relevant, objective assessment for at least five or six years. Back then we didn’t know too much about the Open Budget Survey (OBS). We do have close communication with the European Commission on our public administration reform efforts and through the Public Finance Management dialogue. We eventually came across the OBS. After getting acquainted with the process, we understood that government doesn’t play an active role – that we’re on the side of being watched. Then in 2022, IBP decided to include Montenegro in the survey.
You’ve just gone through your first OBS review process. What did you hope to get out of the experience?
We didn’t have concrete expectations. As a small country, although we are already open and quite a bit transparent, we know there is still a lot of space for improvement. So, as I was looking through the questionnaire, my primary focus was, “What are the weaknesses, where can we improve?” That is what I’m most interested in.
What did you learn from participating in the OBS, even though you haven’t yet received the results?
We still have a lot to do related to transparency. I think that, in general, governments lack a proper understanding of the benefits of being proactively transparent, especially governments in developing countries that don’t usually see transparency as working to their benefit. What I think we will gain from (the OBS survey) is to have an assessment that’s objective and outside of politics.
Montenegro has been through political upheaval over the last few years. At the same time, you and others in the government have been working on fiscal reform. How do you envision those reform efforts going forward?
In 2020, we had a change of government. In 2021, we had a change in government. In 2022, we had a change in government – and now we are about to have another government. That’s four governments in a very short period of time. We are already undergoing significant reforms in various fields, including public finance. The Public Finance Management Strategy for 2022-2026 compiles most of these reforms in one place. It includes such reforms as public investments, debt management, accrual accounting, state asset management, budgetary transparency improvement, and other reforms. In the previous period I had the opportunity to lead and extensively participate in implementing significant reforms such as the introduction of program-based budgeting and fiscal rules in the Montenegrin system of public finance. These and other reforms could be considered among the most comprehensive reforms in our country over the last decade. I also had the pleasure of seeing the benefits of these reforms after their implementation. So, in public finance, we have made steady progress. What we still lack is a citizens’ budget, and we do need to work on presenting more user-friendly information. It’s not a question of willingness, it’s a question of capacity and being able to do it. For the next budget year, we intend to improve, and to have a specific chapter in the budget that presents crucial budgetary information to the citizens in a comprehensible way. In the next 3-5 years if we see all these reforms implemented, I will be perfectly satisfied.
What, if anything, do you plan to do differently in future rounds of the OBS?
In the next round we will for sure have more people dedicated (to the survey). It’s a good thing and I think the assessment has been done with a very relevant and well-profiled NGO. Even though I come from the government, I really respect their work. We had some different views on some points within the questionnaire, and I’m curious to see what the final decision will be.