On Monday, the International Budget Partnership (IBP) officially released its Open Budget Index 2008, an evaluation of the public availability of eight key documents that serve as benchmarks in national-level budget processes. In presenting the index, Warren Krafchik, IBP’s Director, emphasized that assessing budget transparency is more than an academic exercise; budgets have a direct impact on citizens, especially in the form of anti-poverty programs.
The IBP’s methodology is similar to the methodology we use to produce the national scorecard portion of the Global Integrity Report. Both organizations partner with local experts (or teams of experts) to collect data and conduct research. For each index, there is an in-house quality control review as well as a peer review process carried out by local civil society experts. Finally, both IBP and Global Integrity publish margins of error in their data — for IBP, this is their “unanimity” score for each country, which tracks the level of agreement between lead researchers and country peer reviewers.
One of the countries touted in the Open Budget Index for its potential for change is Kenya. According to the index and an accompanying narrative piece, the perseverance of Kenyan CSOs has led to substantial gains in budget transparency, despite the absence of a national Freedom of Information Act. The Global Integrity Report: 2008, due to be released later this month, takes a more holistic look at governance and public access mechanisms in place in Kenya and includes some basic budget transparency questions. Without giving too much away, we also found that although Kenyan CSOs are limited in their capacity to directly engage in the policy-making process, the still serve as effective government watchdogs and strong public advocates.
IBP argues that the existence of an active civil society climate, like Kenya’s, is precisely what is needed to push for greater public access to the budget process. One of the key findings of the Open Budget Index is that the majority of nations already produce the eight documents IBP deems essential; these governments simply don’t release them to the public or the media. Given this fact, increasing public access to the eight documents can serve as an easy first step provided there is some degree of public pressure and political will. During the release event, Krafchick acknowledged that releasing these budget documents is only a first step and that there are many cases where systematic overhaul (of public financial management) is necessary. However, for aid or market dependent nations, increasing public access to the budget will hopefully shift government accountability away from aid donors or market investors and towards the citizens who are on the receiving end of government services.
— Norah Mallaney