Budget Transparency: governments could easily do more

Feb 05, 2009

Eighty percent of the world’s governments fail to provide adequate information for the public to hold them accountable for managing their money, according to an extensive new report by the International Budget Partnership (IBP).

Nearly 50 percent of 85 countries whose access to budget information was carefully evaluated by the IBP provide such minimal information that they are able to hide unpopular, wasteful, and corrupt spending.

These new findings are based on the IBP’s just published Open Budget Survey 2008—a comprehensive analysis and survey that evaluates whether central governments give the public access to budget information and opportunities to participate in the budget process. The Survey also examines the ability of legislatures and auditors to hold their governments accountable. Information about the methodology can be found at www.openbudgetindex.org

Restricting access to information hinders the ability of the public, journalists, commentators, academicians, and civil society organizations to hold officials accountable and creates opportunities for governments to hide unpopular, wasteful, and corrupt spending. Lack of information also hinders the ability of other government bodies, such as legislatures and national audit offices, to do their jobs effectively. The Open Budget Index website provides extensive examples of what can go wrong when governments are not transparent and of what can go right when they are.

Additionally, legislators in many countries receive budget information too late to allow them to adequately review it or to hold the public hearings necessary to foster debate and careful scrutiny. The Survey found that in 24 of the 85 countries, the legislature received the budget six weeks or less before the budget year begins.

One of the most significant findings of the Survey is that many governments produce the budget information that would allow the public to participate effectively in the budget process but do not release it. In 51 of the 85 countries surveyed, the government produces at least one key document that is not disclosed to the public. Thus governments could improve transparency immediately and at a very little cost, simply by disclosing information that is already produced.

In the 59 countries where the OBI was repeated, there is a slight improvement in some of the countries. Based on comparative data from the first two Surveys, improvements in overall performance can be attributed primarily to changes in government policies.

For instance, the desire to join the European Union led to greater budget transparency in Bulgaria and Croatia.

Nepal climbed a bit from the bottom of the index largely because a constitutional crisis resulted in an election that led to more normal function of previously dysfunctional government institutions.

Other countries that showed improvement include Ghana, Egypt, Uganda, Georgia, Indonesia, El Salvador, Ecuador, Mongolia, and Morocco.

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