The Open Budget Survey: A Look Back at Transparency

By David Robins, IBP— Sep 01, 2015

On 9 September IBP will launch the Open Budget Survey 2015 – the world’s only independent, comparative, and regular measure of budget transparency, participation, and oversight. As we near the release of the latest results, now may be a good time to look back at previous rounds of the Survey.  Which countries made the biggest gains in improving budget transparency in 2012? And what were some of the drivers of these improvements?

Budget Transparency in 2012: Which Countries Made Progress?

Between 2010 and 2012 the world made modest progress toward more open budget systems. Seven countries made dramatic improvements in budget transparency, increasing their OBI scores by more than fifteen points (HondurasAfghanistan, São Tomé e Príncipe, Pakistan, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, and the Dominican Republic). Five of these countries significantly improved their scores by simply making budget documents that the government was already producing available to the public – one of the easiest and most straightforward ways of making rapid progress in budget transparency.

The two countries that saw the biggest gains in their OBI score between 2010 and 2012 deserve a closer look. While the circumstances, actors, and pressures differ, some interesting patterns do emerge.

Honduras

Honduras made the biggest gains in budget transparency among the 100 countries surveyed in 2012, with an impressive 42 point increase in its OBI score. Previous rounds of the Survey had found that Honduras was providing little to no budget information to the public. However, a political crisis that erupted in 2009 led to foreign donors withdrawing financial support to the government, as well as domestic and international pressure for the government to improve budget transparency.

In an effort to reestablish legitimacy, and encourage the resumption for aid, the government instituted a series of public financial management reforms aimed at improving budget transparency. The Ministry of the Presidency took the lead in coordinating these reforms and requested technical assistance from IBP. This assistance ultimately included training public officials and drew the government into talks with civil society stakeholders on how to improve Honduras’ fiscal transparency.

Afghanistan

Between 2010 and 2012 Afghanistan also made an impressive leap toward more open budgets, with its score jumping from 21 to 59. In 2010 donors and international financial institutions began to encourage the Afghan government to increase budget transparency as a means of fighting corruption. Donors began delivering aid through Afghanistan’s budget and linked pledges of financial assistance to the government making public finance more transparent and improving its spending capacity.

The finance ministry, eager to improve its international image, complied by creating a “Public Financial Roadmap” which included commitments to increase transparency. Civil society also engaged the government on improving transparency, and held workshops, media events, and conducted training to spread the word on the link between budget transparency and government accountability.

Drivers of Change

While the exact mix of events, issues, and actors can vary from country to country, the above examples from 2012 indicate there may be some general lessons about how and why countries improve transparency.  Indeed Honduras’ and Afghanistan’s stories echo the findings of Open Budgets: The Political Economy of Transparency, Participation, and Accountability, a book examining how and why improvements to government disclosure practices come about.

The book identifies four main drivers of increased transparency:

  • Political change: Transitions from autocracy to democracy are linked to improved budget transparency, especially when the political change empowers reform-minded politicians and technocrats, civil society, and oversight bodies.
  • Economic crisis: When faced with economic and fiscal crises, government will often institute reforms that improve budget transparency as a means to restore confidence and improve public financial management.
  • Corruption scandals: Reformers can use widely covered corruption cases to convince the government to improve access to budget information.
  • External influence: Encouragement from international donors and multistakeholder initiatives, such as the Open Government Partnership, can empower local civil society and lead to governments embracing greater fiscal transparency.

The Open Budget Survey 2015

Which countries made the greatest gains in budget transparency between 2012 and 2015? Find out when the Open Budget Survey 2015 launches on 9 September. We’ll be discussing the latest findings at an event at the World Bank on 10 September, signup to join us in person or watch and participate online. And tweet your thoughts and comments to #OpenBudgets.

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