Looking back to the 2010 Survey, what do we know about budget transparency, participation, and accountability? Why does it matter?
SEND-Ghana works with a network of local government and citizen organizations to monitor the implementation of the US$46 million a year Ghana School Feeding Program (GSFP) that reaches over a million children. SEND’s critical review of the program catalyzed a strong government reaction: the leadership of the GSFP was replaced and a five-member GSFP Review Committee was established. Following SEND’s recommendations, the revised GFSP has subsequently delivered improvements in providing clean, safe water; de-worming for school kids; and delivering adequate stocks of textbooks to the children served by the program.
This is just one of many examples the IBP has documented over the past several years of how civil society and citizens can make real differences in how well government spends public money to address people’s needs. By making public finance management more efficient, effective, and equitable, these efforts have let to better policies and outcomes, especially for people who are poor and marginalized.
This impact would not be possible if the civil society advocates did not have access to timely and useful budget information and opportunities to participate in decision making and monitoring budgets. This is why every two years the IBP conducts the Open Budget Survey, the only independent, comparative, and regular assessment of budget transparency, participation, and accountability in the world. What are the chances that CSOs around the world will have access to this kind of information to enable them to monitor government spending?
We’ll have a better answer to this question when the 2012 Survey is released next week, but there were a number of key findings we can look back on from the 2010 Survey. (Visit www.openbudgetindex.org for complete 2010 Survey results.)
- The overall state of budget transparency is poor. Only 20 countries had OBI scores above 60 and could be characterized as providing their citizens with enough budget data to enable them to develop a comprehensive analysis and understanding of their national budgets.
- The general trend toward open budgets was nonetheless favorable. There was improvement, especially among countries that provided little information to begin with. The average OBI score for the 14 countries that performed worst in the OBI 2006 has gone up from 25 to 40 in the OBI 2010. Similar improvements were found in some of the countries assessed for the first time in the OBI 2008, including Afghanistan, Liberia, and Yemen.
- Audit institutions and legislatures face challenges. The 2010 OBS found that budget oversight was weak in a significant number of countries assessed. Both legislatures and supreme audit institutions often lacked the independence, resources, and capacity to effectively play their oversight role.
- There are many simple steps to opening up budgets that governments are failing to undertake. The 2010 Survey found one of the quickest, and virtually costless, steps the governments can take to open their budgets is to publish on their websites the documents that they are already producing for internal purposes but withholding from the public. Oversight institutions could do more to use their existing legal authority to the fullest. For instance, supreme audit institutions could publish more information in their audit reports and they (and legislatures) could do more to involve the public.
The Open Budget Survey 2012 will be released globally on 23 January 2012. Will it show that the overall state of budget transparency continued to improve? Who will top the list? Who will show the biggest gains and losses in the OBI? What does the new section assessing public participation tell us about how governments are engaging their citizens? How has the strength of SAIs and legislatures changed?
For the most up-to-date information about the 2012 release, go to www.internationalbudget.org, “Like” us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/InternationalBudgetPartnership, and follow us on Twitter at @OpenBudgets.