Online Portal Gives the Citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina Access to and Understanding of Public Spending Data
This post was written by Zoran Ivancic from the CPI Foundation.
Some 20 years after the Bosnian war of the 1990s, Bosnia and Herzegovina remains a fragmented society, known for having one of the most complex systems of public finances in the world. Tiny and poor, Bosnia carries a burden of five layers of government and 14 separate budgets for the central government, each under control of different parliaments and ministries of finance. Additionally, there are three different systems of salary taxation. These complex systems make it difficult for citizens to understand how the government is raising and spending public funds and to engage and participate effectively in budget decisions and processes.
In an effort to foster better understanding of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s budget systems, the portal budzeti.ba was launched on 30 October 2013. The website is a joint project of Bosnian civil society advocates the CPI Foundation (Public Interest Advocacy Center) and the Open Knowledge Foundation. (CPI is an International Budget Partnership partner in Bosnia and Herzegovina.) The portal allows Bosnian citizens to navigate the complexities of the country’s tax system and to explore the distribution of public funds across administrative regions and categories of social spending. Budzeti.ba is designed to make public budget information accessible to every Bosnian citizen. Users can inspect the details of national spending on categories like health and education through a simple point-and-click interface, and they can drill down into regional spending priorities by clicking through an interactive map. The tax calculator feature allows Bosnians to learn how much they contribute to public services and where their money goes by specifying their home region and monthly income. The desire and utility for a website like this was obvious when budzeti.ba attracted more than 20,000 visitors in the first couple of days of its launch and garnered media attention and coverage.
This is the first time that public spending has been presented to the public in a functional classification system. Before budzeti.ba, all budget reporting had been presented in a very dry and technical manner, making it difficult for the average citizen to understand and engage with the information. The absence of a Citizens Budget only amplified the situation. To address this issue, the website was designed so that no specialized knowledge is required to use the site or to understand its intuitive presentation of budget information. A new calculator feature is being tested in a focus group to make the site even more user friendly and easier to understand.
Data for budzeti.ba is taken from several sources, including government websites and the Official Gazette of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since Bosnian tax authorities do not publish their three different calculation methods, the developers of the site worked with accountants to estimate this information.
The data included on the site on its initial launch is from 2012 and will continue to be updated as new information becomes available. CPI intends to deepen budzeti.ba’s regional coverage by including municipal data and to enrich its analysis of government spending with data from the Open Budget Survey, infographics on debt and deficit, and more.
This post was written by Bernhard Krabina, a researcher, consultant, and trainer at the Centre for Public Administration Research (KDZ) in Vienna, Austria. His main areas of work are open government, public governance, and knowledge management. You can find him on Twitter @krabina.
Public availability of municipal spending data is nothing new in Austria. But despite the existence of an Austrian Open Government Data portal (http://data.gv.at), local budget data is not entirely accessible. Data is often locked up in PDF documents, and thus not machine readable, which makes it more difficult to use in analysis or for the creation of data visualizations. But now, spending data for Austria’s municipalities is only a click away.
The Centre for Public Administration Research (KDZ) is an NGO in Austria with sound knowledge of public finances. In a project funded by the Bank Austria, KDZ recently launched the portal www.offenerhaushalt.at that provides access to the spending data of all 2,356 municipalities in Austria. However, it is the responsibility of each municipality’s mayor to publish the budget data via the new portal.
In Austria, the municipalities have to report their budgets to the federal states, who deliver these reports to Statistics Austria, a website that provides political, social and economic information, where they are aggregated and quality checked. An electronic dataset of all the spending data can be purchased at Statistics Austria, who agreed on making this data publicly available on the portal with the consent of the municipalities. Therefore each mayor has been sent login credentials enabling him or her to view and explore their own municipality’s spending data from 2001 to 2012. The portal also includes interactive visualizations. The login credentials can also be shared among members of the administrative departments or the municipal council. With a separate administrative account, the mayors can, with a few clicks, publish all data and visualizations on the portal for everyone to see and use.
More than 500 municipalities have already logged in to the portal and about 10 percent have made their data public, from the city of Salzburg to the small community of Engerwitzdorf. And more join in every day.
The new portal makes it easy for both local government officials and citizens to understand municipal budgets. Three types of visualization are presented alongside raw data sets for each year in a standardized format, making reuse of the data easier than ever before.
The portal features:
- visualizations in the form of a tree map of 2001-2012 spending data according to political (functional) classifications (i.e., where does the money go?)(see Figure 1 below) ;
- visualizations of the corresponding economic classifications (i.e., what are the types of expenses?);
- visualizations of spending of 1,000 euro of tax money (see Figure 2 below);
- detailed views of budgets over time, including how spending will change over a 12-year timeline and a table of five-years’ spending;
- both total and per capita figures;
- the ability to download spending data for each year in CSV format for further reuse (CC-BY license);
- interactive visualizations that include a search function and provide information explaining the data source and visualizations; and
- the ability to compare certain budget categories across municipalities (for those whose data is also published and only for logged-in users).
The platform was developed using open source software (Drupal, D3.js) and further functionality will be developed in 2014.
Figure 1: Typical treemap visualization of the functional classification of the budgets (according to topics like services, education, culture, etc.). Income and expenditure can be selected to be displayed in the treemap for each year, either in total or per capita. The specialty of the treemap is that the colors don’t change according to the size of the area, but stay the same for each of the topics they represent among all municipalities, which makes it possible to better track the development (i.e. pink is the cultural budget in every selected municipality). Below the treemap is the economic classification of the budgets, showing the type of incomes and expenditures (e. g. personal, operational, financial) for the level selected in the treemap.
Figure 2: Where do 1,000 euro of tax money go? This visualization takes only the values from the ordinary budget where the expenditure exceeds the income. It calculates what parts of 1,000 euro of tax money of a municipality have been invested in different areas. The structure does not exactly follow the legal structure of the budget data, but provides more user friendly categories (e. g. putting “child care and youth” up front, whereas in the legal classification it is in two separate subheadings.) This visualization cannot be used to compare data among municipalities, but it shows in what areas the available tax money was spent.
This post was written by Akram Al-Turk, Program Officer for the MENA Project at the International Budget Partnership.
Last week the Tunisian Ministry of Finance published its 2014 Executive’s Budget Proposal (including two supplements) on its website. While the proposal is a brief document with few details on the government’s plans for raising and spending public funds, the fact that the ministry published the proposal concurrently with its submission to the country’s interim legislative body, the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), is a new and positive step. Before 2012 the Executive’s Budget Proposal was not published at all, and last year the proposal was posted only days before the beginning of the fiscal year. Given the current political crisis in the country, however, it’s unclear whether discussions about the budget, both in the media and in the NCA, will take precedence in the next six weeks — especially since ongoing negotiations over a new caretaker government will likely dominate.
Nonetheless there are encouraging signs that the proposed budget will not be forgotten about in the weeks to come. There have already been a number of newspaper articles that have tried to highlight what the Ministry has proposed, including such contentious issues as a cut in subsidies and a possible wage freeze. Civil society has also started to engage seriously with the budget. One example is the creation last March of a joint commission of the Ministry of Finance and some civil society organizations on budget transparency and accountability. The commission has met four times and, as this press release shows, one of the discussions centers around the publication of a Citizens Budget — in which the organizations were asked to provide feedback on the ministry’s first draft.
These developments show that the budget process in Tunisia has become a little more transparent and participatory since the revolution in 2011. But, as many have rightly pointed out, these are modest improvements. As mentioned above, the Executive’s Budget Proposal lacks many details that are eventually published in the Enacted Budget, which makes it difficult for discussions about the proposal to move beyond a superficial level. Some also worry that the government’s attempts to increase participation in the budget process are overridden by a longstanding tendency to make policy decisions at the central level. As researcher Anja Linder states in a recent IBP paper, “Regional Consultative Development Commissions were set up in early 2012 to draft participatory proposals for public investment projects according to local priorities…While it did allow for the regions to express their development needs, the subsequent process of review and prioritization was nevertheless done at the central level.”
Because of these inconsistencies and tensions — and the country’s economic challenges and political crisis — it’s too early to tell whether budget transparency, accountability, and participation in Tunisia are improving. But in the weeks and months to come, IBP will cover these issues further in short analyses and a budget guide for Tunisian civil society organizations. In the meantime, we encourage you to read IBP’s “Key Challenges and Opportunities for Budget Transparency in Tunisia” for an overview of the budget system and process in Tunisia, ongoing public finance reforms, and budget figures of the last five years. In the coming months IBP will also continue to support civil society to build up the capacity of activists and journalists to better understand the budget, write about it in interesting and simple ways, and use it for advocacy. Using the training curriculum we’ve developed specifically for the Tunisian context, IBP partners will hold trainings for journalists next month. And next year we will likely start training activists at the local level on human rights and budgets.
Watch this space for continued updates on budget transparency, accountability, and participation in Tunisia.
For more information, please contact the author at email@example.com.
This post was written by Paolo de Renzio, Senior Research Fellow at the International Budget Partnership.
The curtain has come down on the Open Government Partnership’s (OGP) 2013 Summit — two days of intense discussions and idea exchanges. One could almost sense the excitement around this (still quite new) initiative, with governments and civil society groups trying to find a common language and better ways to work together. Collaboration does not always come easy — as President Kikwete of Tanzania said in the opening plenary, governments and civil society “are condemned to work together” — but everyone was putting in their best effort.
Summits are important, but only action in the 61 OGP countries will make a difference in people’s lives. So what has happened in the two years since the initial OGP countries began work? The initial reports from the independent researchers charged with assessing whether these countries have fulfilled their initial commitments (some are now drafting their second Action Plans) makes for sobering reading. And, in many countries, mechanisms for ensuring dialogue between governments and civil society are still quite weak. One question emerging from the Summit asks what could be done to support the implementation of commitments and promote more ambitious action plans.
One possible answer could be in the Working Groups that OGP set up to bring together countries that have made commitments in five specific areas: 1) Access to Information, 2) Open Data, 3) Legislative Openness, 4) Extractive Industries, and 5) Fiscal Openness.
The International Budget Partnership (IBP), through the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT), has been very active in getting the Fiscal Openness group started, building on the fact that a large number of OGP countries included fiscal openness commitments in their action plans. The group’s first meeting took place the day after the Summit closed and was attended by 40 participants representing seven OGP countries and various international organizations active in fiscal transparency, participation, and accountability.
The agenda featured presentations about some of the exciting work that governments in the room are putting into practice. On budget transparency, Mexico’s “Transparencia Presupuestaria” portal was particularly impressive, but it was the Liberian Finance Minister who spoke to the heart of the OGP — finding ways for governments and citizens to work together for the common good. He reflected on the challenges that transparency reformers face, especially in countries with weak institutions and a poor population. He highlighted how open government can foster peace and reconciliation, and the importance of citizen action in holding public officials accountable, especially at the local level where it is a struggle for the Ministry of Finance to track public resources. One of the key challenges for government in engaging citizens in a meaningful way is go beyond asking for their opinions on fiscal policies to actually including their proposals. Good models presented were South Korea’s mechanisms for ensuring that citizens and independent experts can be part of the budget process and the incipient work on “bottom up budgeting” in the Philippines.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, IBP, and GIFT gave updates on some of the existing tools and mechanisms for promoting and assessing fiscal transparency, including the IMF’s Code of Good Practices in Fiscal Transparency and the Open Budget Survey.
But, the most important conversation was how to make the Working Group an effective mechanism for sharing practices, learning lessons, and incentivizing improvements. Ideas included:
- creating thematic subgroups focusing on specific reform areas and regional groups that could improve constructive engagement (e.g., organizing regional meetings, mirroring those planned for OGP as a whole);
- monitoring and publishing information regularly on the degree to which countries are fulfilling the fiscal openness commitments in their action plans;
- building on participation case studies to provide guidance on good practices, further distilling OGP country experience and possibly promoting some site visits and exchanges; and
- linking to other ongoing work in the wider OGP context related to open data and delivery of public services.
Additionally, if OGP countries begin publishing the 20 budgets documents that they currently produce but withhold from the public, and the 20 OGP countries that don’t produce Citizens Budgets begin doing so, that could give fiscal openness an immediate boost.
All in all, a very promising start!