A note on Ukraine’s performance on the Open Budget Survey

In February 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, occupying territory, displacing millions, and killing tens of thousands of civilians. The Government of Ukraine declared martial law and suspended the standard budgetary procedures. These changes made in response to the Russian invasion have contributed to declines in Ukraine’s budget transparency, oversight, and public participation scores in the Open Budget Survey (OBS) 2023.

Conducted since 2006 by civil society across the globe, the OBS provides an independent, evidence-based, and comprehensive assessment of openness and accountability of central government budgets. Its data provides a snapshot of the current levels of transparency, formal oversight, and public participation in the budget process, and provides a time series on changes in practice over time. The OBS methodology uses widely accepted international standards and norms established by the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency, the International Monetary Fund, the International Organisation of Supreme Audit institutions, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the World Bank, and the findings of the OBS are generally consistent with reports on fiscal accountability published by other reputable public finance institutions.

As the OBS methodology examines a country’s central budget process against international standards, this leaves little to no room to make exceptions when practice is affected by emergency situations. This is intentional – it ensures cross-country comparability, credibility and consistency across assessments. Additionally, responding to crises should not come at the expense of openness, accountability, or good public financial management, and budget openness may help in crises, as we have seen in our assessment of COVID-19 responses. This, therefore, means that users of the OBS should look beyond just the scores, supplementing with other sources of data and consider the findings alongside a country’s context to have a more nuanced and comprehensive view of practices.

Prior to the Russian invasion in February 2022, Ukraine had seen steady improvements in budget transparency since 2015, reaching 65 in OBS 2021. Driven by specific pro-transparency legislation and innovations like their award-winning procurement portal Prozorro, Ukraine has emerged as an open budgets champion. Following the declaration of martial law and suspension of normal budget practices, several of Ukraine’s key budget documents were not published during the OBS 2023 research period, which ended on 31 December 2022. Additionally, opportunities for the public to engage with the legislature during budget approval and with the executive during budget implementation were curtailed or not widely utilized during the research period.

While these changes in practice are concerning, there are positive trends around the openness and accountability of public finance not captured fully (or at all) by the OBS, including the continuation of the public procurement system and publication of State Treasury Service payments. Additionally, local governments, which are not assessed by the OBS, have continued to publish citizens versions of key budget documents.

More recently, facing hundreds of billions of dollars in economic loss and damaged infrastructure, in late 2023 the Ukrainian government, in collaboration with international partners, launched the “Digital Restoration Ecosystem for Accountable Management” (DREAM), a platform to make the reconstruction of Ukraine digitally coordinated and accountable.

Ultimately, advancing an open budget agenda is about opening budget processes to public dialogue, innovating, and advancing the role of watchdog groups in ensuring public monies advance public interests and are not beholden to elite capture. Regardless of their performance in the OBS, governments and civil society that champion these values should be supported by the international community.