This post was written by Elena Mondo, Project Coordinator of the Open Budget Initiative at the International Budget Partnership.
In late January the IBP met with key European donors to discuss the Open Budget Survey 2012, and what the findings mean for donor institutions. The first stop was on 30 January at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) in Stockholm; then it was on to the European Commission’s Development and Cooperation Directorate-General in Brussels, Belgium, on the 31st. Finally the IBP met with the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) on 1 February in Eschborn, Germany. The IBP presented the 2012 Survey results at each meeting, but all three also included discussions about the challenges of promoting open and accountable budgeting, suggestions for ways to overcome these, and ideas for “next steps.”
The donors showed enthusiasm for doing more to increase budget transparency and public engagement in the countries they work with, specifically through their aid policies and programs. This desire to increase the pace of improvements on the part of these donors reflects the growing international consensus among governments, civil society, and other public finance and economic development actors around the need for greater budget transparency and accountability (like through the Open Government Partnership, the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency, and the Global Movement for Budget Transparency, Accountability, and Participation).
The donors were interested in learning about how the Open Budget Survey works and how the Open Budget Index — the comparative measure of budget transparency calculated from a subset of Survey questions that assigns a score to countries from zero to 100 — differs from other tools that measure transparency and the strength of public financial management (PFM) systems. In particular, they were curious as to whether, and how, the various metrics might be used together? Do they overlap, contradict, or complement each other?
The Open Budget Survey is unique, both in terms of coverage and research process, from other existing measurements that assess national PFM systems more broadly. It is the only completely independent assessment of budget transparency in the world, covers the greatest number of countries, and is completed on a regular basis (every two years). It is based on objective facts, not perceptions, and it is implemented by civil society. Finally, it clearly and simply defines fiscal transparency as “access to budget information by any member of the public who requests for it, at a particular point during the budge process and at minimal or no cost.”
The European Commission needs an effective method to measure fiscal transparency as it recently included budget transparency as one of the criteria for determining whether countries are eligible for direct budget support. The Commission uses both the Open Budget Index and the Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA) framework as intermediate milestones and assessments for the 80 countries currently receiving budget support — and to establish baseline entry points those seeking it. Similarly, GIZ has also included the OBI as one of the indicators that it will use to monitor countries through funding arrangements with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development on PFM reforms.
These developments are very encouraging, and we ask donors to build on them. In efforts to support countries’ progress toward achieving internationally recognized standards for budget transparency, participation, and accountability, the Open Budget Survey can be a valuable resource for governments, donors, and development practitioners. The Survey can and should be used to assess countries in relation to these standards and identify specific reform measures to expand transparency, participation, and oversight.
In addition to how donors can use the Survey in their funding decisions, the European donors had some preliminary discussions on ways they might collaborate with the IBP to push for greater transparency and create spaces for, and strengthen the capacity of, citizens to engage in budget processes in countries that perform poorly on the Open Budget Index. Finally, the participants suggested that the IBP expand the coverage of the Open Budget Survey to more countries, as well as for more research to better explain the differences and complementarities between the Survey and other metrics.