Using the Open Budget Survey results to promote change: A conversation with the government reviewer for Indonesia

Indonesia has made steady advances in open budgeting in recent years, as demonstrated by the International Budget Partnership (IBP)’s biennial Open Budget Survey (OBS), where the country now scores 70 out of 100 on budget transparency.

In a recent interview with IBP’s Cosette Highfill, IGA Krisna Murti RS — the most recent OBS government reviewer for Indonesia — reflected on how the government used the OBS and input from civil society to help spur change.

Cosette: How has the government used the OBS results to encourage open budgeting?

IGA Krisna Murti RS

IGA Krisna Murti RS: The OBS is very strong for improving budget transparency. Actually, we do not focus on the score, but on using the results to get leadership support to increase the transparency of the budget. For example, the Indonesian finance minister gave a speech at the 2017 OBS launch via video which demonstrated we are paying attention to budget transparency.

When preparing budget proposals, the directorate general of the budget considers what information should be made public. We always evaluate and compare this with the results of past surveys. For example, if the previous OBS found that debt was not available in the financial memorandum, we will work to include debt information in this year’s financial memorandum.

There are other evaluations of budget transparency in Indonesia, such as PEFA and the IMF’s Fiscal Transparency Evaluation. The ministry of finance is also involved in these assessments. But the value of the OBS is that it is widely known to the public, it can be compared with other countries, and it is based on publicly available evidence.

Cosette: In 2016, the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) invited Indonesia’s ministry of finance to meet with the Mexican government and PEMNA in Korea to share information. The following year, Indonesia launched a budget portal, enabling greater access to budget data. Why 2016?

IGA Krisna: Actually, 2016 was a special year for Indonesia on the budget transparency initiative. Starting with the GIFT invitation to Indonesia’s ministry of finance in 2016, we expanded our understanding that transparency is important for improving the quality of budgeting, and that open budgeting is vital for improving the quality of people’s lives in Indonesia.

When attending the GIFT meeting in Mexico, we ventured to host the next meeting, which GIFT welcomed and then occurred in 2017. We took advantage of this opportunity to launch another tool on the portal – data in spatial formats – which we also showed when invited by PEMNA in Korea. Participation in these meetings gave us insight into increasing budget transparency.

Who are OBS government reviewers?

IBP invites government representatives of the countries assessed by the OBS to review the draft results and provide comments. In the most recent OBS round, officials from 94 governments accepted IBP’s invitation and reviewed their country’s survey questionnaire, a document that includes responses on more than 200 indicators.

Cosette: How does the ministry spread awareness of the importance of transparency within the government?  

IGA Krisna: The ministry of finance can only encourage other ministries to provide data – as the ministry of finance has done for the data portal. We also recommend providing a wider range of data for local budgets so that the public knows about the activities carried out by local governments.

Some ministries also have action plans with targets to be achieved at the national level, such as the publication of education and health budgets in the data portal or signing a memorandum among ministries on commitments to publish budget data.

Cosette: Has the OBS research partner Seknas Fitra also joined your meetings to discuss budget transparency?

IGA Krisna: Yes. We, assisted by Seknas Fitra, are trying to show the public that we have tried to publish data through the portal in a format that is easily understood. We always say that every ministry should have the same mission – budget transparency.

Cosette: Can you speak more about Open Data Day, Budget Goes to Campus and the Budget Olympics, which encourage public input into the formulation and implementation of the national budget?

IGA Krisna: This is a very pleasant part of carrying out budget transparency activities. We learned to communicate and discuss with the public about the budgeting process, even though we are not teachers or publicists. We shared knowledge and opened up opportunities to talk about the budget. The Budget Goes to Campus event is to communicate with students and lecturers, and the Open Data Day and Budget Olympics are competitions around the public’s ability to use budget information. All have the same objective: public understanding of the budgeting process in Indonesia. When people understand the budget process, they can provide information to the government on their needs. We highly appreciate public input and even criticism of the government, but it is more useful if criticism or input to the government is based on knowledge and is in a form we can use.

In one year, we held events in several universities and at around 15 senior high schools. We plan to continue these activities every year and hope to reach many other schools and universities. Especially this year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we held these activities online. We are hopeful that the dissemination of budget information online can reach a greater audience.

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