Budget Credibility

Our Budget Credibility initiative delves into government spending to see where it deviates from the approved budget and investigates why these deviations occur. Pinpointing where and why governments underspend or overspend highlights problems in public financial management systems that need reform in order to deliver the services citizens need and drive progress toward development goals.

About Budget Credibility

Whether a government meets its revenue and expenditure targets during the fiscal year. When actual spending veers from the approved budget, we describe it as either underspent (if spending is less than what was allocated) or overspent (if spending is greater than the allocation).

Learn more about the start of IBP’s credibility work from our fact sheet and our current work in our initiative overview

If budgets are not implemented as intended, this directly impacts when and how essential services are delivered and can undermine progress in addressing poverty and inequality.

Our research has found that budget credibility is a challenge that deeply impacts low-income countries. In a 2019 multi-country study, we found that levels of annual underspending in government budgets averaged nearly 10% across 35 countries, and 14% in low income countries. This is larger than the entire health budget for many countries.Government underspending often impacts key priority areas such as health, education and nutrition.

Research conducted in partnership with 24 civil society organizations in 2018 also found that large deviations in spending on government programs are often not explained or justified in government reports.

Civil society has a role to play in tracking budget deviations and holding governments accountable to ensure that governments live up to their promises to spend adequately and deliver on national and development priorities.

In Nigeria, research on tracking the budget credibility of COVID spending led civil society groups to push for more access to data for public infrastructure projects. Joint advocacy from civil society organizations has led to the government including a requirement for ‘geotagging’ of projects in the Budget Circular for 2022.

In Ghana, research on the national fertilizer subsidy program found that the government overspent its budget yet under-delivered the actual subsidies – especially to women farmers – due to a backlog of payments to fertilizer importers. In 2022, through help from civil society organizations, the Ghanaian government promised to put safeguards in place to ensure that women farmers get their fair share. And IBP is working with community organizations to improve budgetary allocations and disbursements from the government.

In Senegal, research showed that sanitation budgets are consistently low priority in government spending, and undermined by procurement and institutional coordination challenges. Policy dialogues between government and civil society have secured commitments to improving spending rates in coming years.

We are also promoting budget credibility through external audits as a way to strengthen the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We are currently collaborating with Supreme Audit Institutions and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs to develop a handbook on SAIs’ contribution to strengthening budget credibility through external audits.

Many countries continue to underspend in key areas. Our latest analysis tracked deviations across 7 sectors related to 10 global goals in 13 countries. We found that water and sanitation, gender and the environment were the sectors where underspending was the most prevalent.

The most significant challenge when trying to identify and explain budget deviations is finding and obtaining access to relevant data. Spending on gender, in particular, is hard to track, with only Senegal, Mexico and Argentina establishing systems to track and analyze spending on gender across ministries and programs. Another challenge is the relative lack of attention that budget credibility has attracted—thus allowing government under-spending to slip under the radar.

Together with our partners and country teams, we are conducting in-depth research and advocacy in Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria and Senegal. We are leading research and analysis into the causes and impact of budget credibility issues in selected government service delivery programs, especially essential services that are relied upon by vulnerable populations. These include fertilizer subsidies in Ghana, fuel subsidies for fisherfolk in Indonesia, primary healthcare and agricultural inputs for women farmers in Nigeria, and sanitation services in Senegal. In collaboration with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, we are engaging SAIs to share and document good practices and develop a handbook for SAIs to assess and address budget credibility via their audits.

Key Impacts


of aggregate national budgets goes unspent in low income countries


of immunization budgets went unspent in a survey of 22 countries.


of the budget allocations for gender ministries and programs was not spent in Ghana, Nigeria, and Zambia between 2018 and 2020

Featured resources
SAI Handbook cover
Learning, Training Materials

Strengthening Budget Credibility through External Audits: A Handbook for Auditors

Jul 19, 2023

Gender Responsive Budgeting

Oct 18, 2022
Case Study, Paper

Connecting Budget Credibility to the Sustainable Development Goals

Sep 09, 2022
In Nigeria, the Ministry of Education consistently underspent its budget by 12 to 37% between 2013 and 2017. IBP focuses on budget credibility by checking whether governments spend less or more than the approved budget and advocating for better transparency and adherence to planned spending.

Addressing Budget Credibility Fact Sheet

Feb 17, 2022
Where we work in this area
Janet Atimoliga, a rice farmer, poses on her farm as she is assisted by women from her local farmer group, Korania Wedamdaga Women's Cooperative, to transplant and apply fertilizer to rice seedlings. Navrongo, Upper East-Ghana. Photo by Francis Kokoroko for International Budget Partnership © 2022.


In Ghana, we fostered powerful coalitions from 2018-2022 to support a nationwide peasant farmers association and communities affected by mining to demand accountable delivery of services.
Members of the fisherfolk group KNTI at a rally where government members and fisherfolk came together to discuss budget credibility issues facing fisherfolk.


In Indonesia, we fostered powerful coalitions to support the national fisherfolk union and a grassroots organization representing the urban poor to demand accountable delivery of services. Together we have improved access to fuel subsidies for fisherfolk and cash assistance for urban poor households respectively.


In Kenya, we spent the past decade supporting civil society actors to arm themselves with budget knowledge, and advocate for equitable and better-quality services.
The Smallholder Women Farmers Organization in Nigeria (SWOFON) joined forces with IBP in 2018 to marry budget analysis expertise with organizational strength to improve the lives of women farmers.


In Nigeria, we fostered powerful coalitions to support a nationwide movement of women farmers and community health advocates to demand accountable delivery of services.
Astou Mbengue, lead data collector for the Senegalese Federation of Inhabitants (FSH), is working to improve living conditions in informal settlements.


In Senegal, we work with social movements and coalitions of excluded communities to demand improved services for sanitation, flood-response, climate change and primary healthcare.
Take action

Demand Accountability

Join us and our many international and national partners to urge governments to:

  1. Establish meaningful, inclusive spaces to engage the public in budget processes.
  2. Curtail executive overreach and empower legislators and auditors’ oversight roles.
  3. Disclose more and better budget information.
  4. Sustain progress by institutionalizing accountability reforms.

Add your voice

Related Stories
Related Resources

Exploring the Connections between Budget Credibility and SDG Implementation

This synthesis outlines the findings of 13 research briefs exploring budget credibility challenges within specific SDG-related sectors.
Case Study

Examining Budget Credibility in Zambia’s Agriculture Sector

This brief analyzes budget credibility challenges in Zambia’s agriculture sector, particularly in light of the negative effects of climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Case Study

Examining Budget Credibility in The Gambia’s Agriculture Sector

This brief analyzes the budget credibility trend of The Gambia’s Ministry of Agriculture from 2017 to 2021, its impact on agricultural sector outcomes, and the causes of expenditure deviations in the sector.
Case Study

Examining Budget Credibility in South Africa’s Water and Sanitation Sector

This brief interrogates the budget credibility issues in South Africa’s water and sanitation sector over a five-year period (2017-2021) and analyses the impact of spending deviations on the delivery of programs within the water and sanitation sector.
Case Study

Examining Budget Credibility in Senegal’s Water and Sanitation Sector

This brief examines the credibility of Senegal’s water and sanitation budget between 2018 and 2021.
English, French
Case Study

Examining Budget Credibility in Romania’s Education Sector

This brief examines the reasons behind budget deviations in the education sector, and their impact on service delivery, and recommends reforms to improve the implementation of Romania’s education budget.
Case Study

Examining Budget Credibility in Nigeria’s Health Sector

This brief sheds light on the causes of underspending in Nigeria’s health sector budget between 2018 and 2021 and how these spending deviations have impacted the country’s quest to achieve the SDGs.
Case Study

Examining Budget Credibility in Nepal’s Health Sector

This brief compares actual expenditures against approved budget allocations in Nepal’s health sector, examining why there are significant deviations over the four-year period from FY 2017/18 to FY 2020/21.
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