Many people see government as a process of service delivery that should be technically sound and as cheap as possible. But that is not enough.
While technical skills and efficiency are important, effective and democratic government is not possible without transparency and accountability.
Without accountability, those in positions of power can safely ignore the will of the people. In such cases government may be efficiently doing things that are not useful to citizens.
To direct and oversee government, citizens need to know what government is doing, who in government is doing it and when they are doing it. Without transparency, citizen participation is less well informed and less effective.
Recent research by the International Budget Project shows that some civil society organizations have developed new forms of citizen oversight over government finances. In the process they are making governments more accountable. They are also empowering citizens to engage in more effective forms of advocacy and thereby make governments more responsive.
Some examples of their impact include:
- The Uganda Debt Network has implemented new forms of citizen oversight that combat local government corruption;
- DISHA in India has shown how disadvantaged members of society can lobby government to spend more on them, and
- IBASE in Brazil has demonstrated how citizens can be made more aware of the technical issues around government budgets
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