This post was written by Vivek Ramkumar, Director of International Advocacy and the Open Budget Initiative at the International Budget Partnership.
Today has been a great day for budget transparency advocates. Two major international media houses, the Guardian and the Economist, published pieces emphasizing the need for greater budget transparency and citing the IBP’s Open Budget Index (OBI). In the Guardian’s Global Development Blog, a post looking at sources of data for assessing progress toward open governance cites the Open Budget Survey as one of four data sources. “The Open Budget Survey from the International Budget Partnership scores 100 countries on the availability and accessibility of key documents throughout the budgeting process – it is not enough to simply publish the final budget to get a high score.” And, the Economist article links budget transparency to citizens’ voice, better development outcomes, and greater fiscal stability.
And, in the opening plenary session of the second annual Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit in London, Indonesia’s Vice President Boediono cited the OBI as evidence of success in his country’s reform efforts, saying, “Our Open Budget Index (OBI) 2012 score for Indonesia had risen from 51 in 2010 to 62 in 2012, making it the highest in Southeast Asia. This was primarily the result of joint efforts between government and civil society to push for greater budget transparency and citizen participation.”
A consistent message in each of these is that when citizens and civil society have access to comprehensive budget information and to meaningful opportunities to use this information to participate in public policy decision making and to monitor government spending, the result is better policies, improved service delivery, and, ultimately, greater impact on people’s lives. To seize the opportunity this attention on open budgeting provides for making real progress on increasing budget transparency and participation, the IBP is developing and preparing to launch (in Spring 2014) the Open Budget Survey (OBS) Tracker. The OBS Tracker will be an online tool that will provide nearly “real time” data on basic government budget transparency — i.e., it will track whether governments are making important budget documents publicly available in a timely way. It isn’t a complete measure of open budgeting (it only looks at whether a document is published; it doesn’t assess the detail in the document – that is still the biennial Open Budget Survey that comprehensively assesses budget transparency, public engagement in budgeting, and the strength of oversight institutions) but it will allow citizens, civil society, government officials, and donors to see on a more regular basis whether governments are doing at least the bare minimum in releasing the eight key budget documents required by international standards. (The Economist article gives examples of how civil society in Mexico and Nigeria use budget information in their advocacy.)
We think that the OBS Tracker will enable several stakeholders within countries to regularly monitor their government’s performance and sharpen advocacy by maintaining pressure throughout the year on country governments to publish budget information. This will ensure that stakeholders can catch any inconsistency or backsliding in their government’s practices throughout the year and prevent “gaming” of the Open Budget Survey requirements — i.e., quickly posting documents during the assessment period but removing them afterwards.