The Open Budget Survey is the world’s only comparative, independent, and regular assessment of transparency, oversight and participation in national budgets in 120 countries.
As is the case in every round, the 2021 survey represents the collective work of our global network of researchers in each country. This round, however, we did something different. We leaned into partnership and worked hand-in-hand with a select group of partners to co-author our global report and seven regional reports. This new approach has allowed us to benefit from the rich insights of our global partners and present key recommendations to spur action at the global, regional and country level.
The 2021 survey comes at a time when accountable and inclusive public budgets are more urgent than ever. The pandemic has led to the first rise in global extreme poverty in a generation, inequality is soaring and democracy is backsliding. The wealthy have become wealthier, while the excluded, especially women and marginalized communities are bearing the brunt of the fallout. Governments need to open up to public dialogue around how best to manage scarce public resources if we are to meet these challenges. Inclusion can yield democratic and development dividends in this time of great need and great disruption.
Eastern Europe and Central Asia, East Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa (after a dip in the OBS 2017) have all made significant strides in regional transparency scores since 2008. These gains are much needed as we know that fiscal openness lead to lower borrowing costs, higher revenue generation and greater public trust that governments can deliver on the urgent challenges we face.
Somewhat surprisingly in this round of the survey, we found that while accountability systems around the world remain weak, the pandemic did not undo hard-fought gains in transparent and accountable budgeting practices worldwide. Most countries were able to maintain, and in some cases build on earlier gains in their annual budget processes. Between 2019 and 2021, the global average score for transparency increased by 1 point; the global average score for oversight declined by 1 point; and the global average score for participation was unchanged.
Although the survey does not explicitly examine the reasons why country practices improve or regress, we believe the resilience of open budget agendas can be attributed to two factors: increased digitization of information and the institutionalization of accountability practices. These results affirm that investing in open budgets is a winning proposition.
Reform champions worldwide illustrate the power of political will in driving progress. The Dominican Republic has entered the top 10 performers who are leading the way in advancing and institutionalizing transparency alongside others like Georgia. South Korea is spearheading inclusive practices for public consultation in the budget process. Benin, Nigeria and the Gambia are among the biggest improvers in this survey round. These countries are reaping the benefits of open budgets and provide a useful roadmap for others to follow.
While few countries provide meaningful opportunities for people to participate in budgetary processes, we see innovations that illustrate what is possible.
Increasingly, governments are using digital tools to engage with citizens. For instance, Indonesia set up a centralized portal for complaints related to service delivery. Georgia’s finance ministry updated its online portal to seek inputs on people’s priorities for the upcoming budget. In South Africa, the National Treasury introduced pre-budget consultations. All submissions were posted on the Treasury portal and informed the Treasury’s proposed budget strategy described in South Africa’s Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement.
While some countries have mechanisms for public participation, few are open to everyone and even fewer prioritize marginalized communities. South Korea’s Citizen Committee is the exception. It deliberates and filters proposals submitted online before the public votes for which proposals the legislature should fund. In recent years, the Committee expanded to include 150 new members. Out of 450 members, 400 people are now from the general public and 50 from marginalized groups.
Many national audit offices are seeing the benefits of collaborating with civil society. Several are breaking traditional ways of working and leveraging technology to bring in the public.
In Argentina, auditors have worked with groups to ensure the government adequately prioritizes and spends funds targeted at people living with Chagas. Romania’s national audit office provided clear instructions on its website to seek public feedback on its audit programs. Ghana’s Audit Service launched a mobile app, where the public can contribute to audit plans and programs.
Oversight systems are being compromised. The average score for legislative oversight has declined 2 points to 47 out of 100 due to political unrest, the pandemic and executive overreach. In 17 countries, legislative oversight is lower in 2021 compared to 2017. Some executive governments have found ways to undermine Supreme Audit Institutions while staying within the boundaries of the law. One-third of legislatures failed to examine audit reports. In nearly two out of three surveyed countries, the SAI or the legislature do not publicly track actions by the executive to address audit recommendations.
Join us and our many international and national partners to urge governments to: