Open Budget Survey 2023

9th Edition Summary

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The Open Budget Survey is the world’s only comparative, independent, and regular assessment of transparency, oversight and participation in national budgets.

The Open Budget Survey 2023 assessed 125 countries, which are home to 95% of the world’s population and include budgets totaling more than $33.5 trillion in spending in Fiscal Year 2022.

This locally-led process was conducted with in-country researchers, peer reviewers, and government reviewers who completed 30,000 indicators across all surveyed countries, assessing 672 publicly available budget documents and 299 participation mechanisms.

This latest round comes at a turbulent time of unprecedented challenges. Rising debt, inflation, conflicts, closing civic space and climate change have led to serious setbacks for many. Structural inequality is undermining the promise of democracy to deliver for all. Given these challenges, the budgetary process provides countless opportunities for governments to share information about public resource decisions they are making and their rationale, and to seek community generated evidence that can help them make better decisions that reflect people’s priorities.

Global budget transparency has increased by 24% since 2008, but it is still well below what is considered sufficient (a score at or above 61 out of 100) to allow for meaningful public engagement. Legislative oversight is also well below sufficient levels, and public participation is rare. Average audit oversight scores are sufficient, but challenges remain to ensure governments follow up on audit reports.

Global Averages

45

Transparency

15

Public Participation

45

Legislative Oversight

62

Audit Oversight

Despite modest gains in global budget transparency, regional trends show two stories—one of sustained progress and one of downward peril.

Since 2012, East Asia & the Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa have had the steepest increases over time. Their progress, along with that of Eastern Europe & Central Asia and Latin America & the Caribbean, contrast with a significant fall over time in South Asia, stagnation in Western Europe, U.S., & Canada, and continued low performance in the Middle East & North Africa (albeit with improvements).

Major conflicts and other factors contributed to drops in the publication of two key documents—Citizens Budgets and In-Year Reports.

Citizen Budgets are a great way to produce a more accessible version of the budget that everyday people can engage with. In-Year Reports are a perfect opportunity to assess whether countries are underspending or overspending compared to their initial budgets on social programs and other sectors that are important to communities. The decline in both of these practices is important given the critical role these two documents can play in promoting meaningful public engagement in the budget process. Countries also continue to do a much better job at presenting information in their budget proposal stage, than in documents later in the process that would allow for greater scrutiny of how they’re doing on actual spending.

Almost a third of countries do not publish an annual report on the execution of their budget.

We also continue to see scarce information on how governments are raising revenues and managing debt—two key areas that impact whether governments have the necessary resources to deliver on social spending.

Although a large majority of countries (70%) provide data on all projected tax revenue by individual source in their Executive’s Budget Proposal, only 59% provide data on all actual revenue collected by individual source. About half of surveyed countries provide data in their budget proposals on their total debt burden. Less than a quarter offer information on the long-term sustainability of government finances.
Even fewer countries—11 percent of those assessed—include in their Executive Budget Proposal a longer-term projection of financial sustainability that covers a period of at least 10 years, including macroeconomic and demographic assumptions.

Despite these setbacks, there are bright spots of reform champions who are presenting meaningful budgetary information to their publics.

tanzania

Tanzania

Tanzania’s new government worked with civil society to improve how it presents budgetary information, including through a new user-friendly website. 

moldovia

Moldova

Moldova kept their public informed around budget decisions and challenges they faced during the war in neighboring Ukraine. Their Ministry of Finance, led by a former survey partner, improved the disclosure of budget information by publishing clear summaries, producing videos and speaking on a daily basis with the press.

Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina; March 8th 2022: 8M International Day of Working Women, massive march through the streets of the city center. Maria Rocio de la Torre/ Shutterstock.

Argentina

Argentina

Thanks to concerted advocacy by feminist groups and other social movements, Argentina has continued to innovate the way it presents budget data, including the financial impact of budget policies on women, children and adolescents, people with disabilities, and the environment.

dominican

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic presented alternative displays of expenditures to highlight the impact of the budget on children and adolescents and gender equality, and investment projects by geographical distribution.

nigeria

Kyrgyz Republic & Nigeria​

The Kyrgyz Republic and Nigeria are improving reporting and seeking public consultation on debt.

Public participation practices in national budgetary processes are still nascent.

Although 83% of countries have at least one participation mechanism, governments are more likely to engage their publics in early stages, like when they announce their budgets, than in later stages when budgets are actually spent.

This is worrying because we often see governments deviate from their original targets, and underspending on social programs is quite common.

In legislatures, there are also fewer participation spaces during audit reviews (11%) than during budget approval (57%). This means few legislatures provide the space for people to learn more about how the government has managed its resources, and to demand accountability in case of irregularities.

Line ministries have much fewer spaces for people to have a say on sector budgets. Less than a third of line ministries invite people’s input into sector budgets, compared to a little under three-fifths of finance ministries and a little under three-fifths of legislatures. This is an important area for reform as line ministries make important decisions around spending on social programs and sectors that have a direct impact on people’s lives.

In some countries we are seeing various institutions—the executive, the legislature and audit institutions— implementing innovative practices to expand opportunities for meaningful engagement with the public during the budget process.

DR_2

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic’s 26-point leap in public participation this survey round is a testament to their efforts to ensure citizen feedback on the implementation of social projects, construction of social housing, investment in social programs and other areas, which also impacts how these projects are prioritized in the subsequent year’s budget.

gambia

The Gambia

The Gambia saw a 17-point increase in its public participation due to concerted collaboration between civil society and government. The Ministry of Finance, National Assembly and National Audit Office engage with the public around the budget process using virtual and media channels to reach people and seek input.

Director General at the Ministry of Finance of Montenegro, Bojan Paunovic is convinced that improving budget transparency and participation will make the country stronger – and help it earn entree into the European Union.
montenagro

Montenegro

In Montenegro, the legislature’s Committee for Economy, Budget and Finance follows a two-stage process to deliberate the executive’s budget proposal, with stage one providing an opportunity for diverse stakeholders to have a say. Parliamentarians hold public hearings with the national audit office, central bank, trade unions, academia and civil society. Any civil society organization can participate, express their views on the proposal and seek answers from Ministry of Finance representatives who attend.

peru

Peru

In Peru, the Comptroller’s Office worked closely with civil society to expand opportunities for public participation and passed a resolution formalizing its public participation mechanisms in its directives so that this practice can be sustained long-term.

Worryingly, legislative oversight has steadily declined over the last two survey rounds, falling three points from its pre-COVID pandemic mark.

The pandemic provided an excuse for many executive governments to sidestep the legislature in its budget practices, and legislative oversight practices have not bounced back since.

Audit oversight remains steady. However, questions remain as to whether legislatures and other accountability allies can be stronger partners in ensuring that audit reports have teeth by ensuring executive follow up and public scrutiny.

Moving forward, progress is possible everywhere, and everyone stands to gain when the public can be meaningfully involved in deeply consequential decisions around how to manage public resources. The following recommendations would move us toward a more inclusive future:

  1. Governments should publish eight key budget documents, including making strides to provide core budget information on expenditures, revenue, debt, macroeconomic forecasts, and non-financial performance. Governments can make quick progress by making public many budget documents they produce internally. Building transparency and participation into legal frameworks and administrative guidelines allows for these practices to continue year after year.
  2. Governments should expand spaces for people— especially traditionally excluded communities— to participate, especially during budget execution. Line ministries should consider ways to expand public participation in sector budgets that have a direct impact on people’s access to quality goods and services.
  3. Legislatures should promote more regular debate and public participation throughout the budget cycle, invest in internal capacity on budgetary topics, and expand opportunities for public hearings and engagement on the annual budget and annual audit report. Auditors should also continue to seek greater collaboration and engagement with both the public and legislators.
  4. Civil society plays an important role in making budget information accessible and can forge coalitions to engage in the budget process to ensure community’s needs and priorities are better reflected and they are able to inform decisions.
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