“Please, sir, can I have some more?” What happened when activists from 80 countries asked their governments for more budget information

Nov 01, 2010

What happened when activists from 84 countries asked their governments for more budget information?

The Open Budget Survey documents what budget information is routinely made available by governments. But what happens when the public asks for budget information that is not routinely released? The International Budget PartnershipAccess Info Europe, and the Centre for Law and Democracy decided to find out.

The Ask Your Government initiative coordinates a network of civil society organisations that asked 80 governments the same 6 questions using a standard protocol. The 6 questions asked for specific budget information on spending for interventions to prevent maternal mortality, funds flowing to national environmental agencies, subsidies for activities that pose environmental risks, and the transparency and predictability of development aid.

Results were disappointing… Governments clammed up

The disappointing part is that governments did not respond at all or with insufficient information. In fact only one of the 80 countries provided substantive answers to all six questions. Click here to read the dreadful truth.

The reality is possibly even worse. These questions were asked by activists that know the machinery of government and how to navigate it. If they couldn’t get answers, it is even less likely that an average member of the public would find such a requests answered.

And Surprising…  a few governments surpassed all expectation

The surprising part was that some governments performed better than one could have expected.  It seems good practice is possible even in contexts of low capacity and scarcity. Here are some examples:

  • Namibia provided answers to all six questions, albeit with incomplete answers for some.
  • Guatemala provided substantive answers on the amount of money spent, the drugs purchased, and the number of midwives trained during the last two years.
  • Malawi and Ecuador responded substantively to questions pertaining to past aid disbursements, and Ecuador also responded  comprehensively with information on future aid commitments.
  • While the process for obtaining information was convoluted, India ultimately provided a good answer to the questionabout fossil fuel subsidies – one of the most complicated questions to answer.

Go listen for yourself

As part of the initiative, five partners in Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia recorded audio diaries of their efforts to request and obtain budget information from their governments.  Based on their audio diaries, the IBP produced a five-part series of radio programs. Click here to listen to their stories.

Want to know even more?

Mail the IBP: info (at) internationalbudget.org or the Open Budget Blog: openbudgets (at) gmail.com

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