“It is easier to teach an advocate how to understand a budget than to teach advocacy to an economist,” argued the International Budget Partnership’s Warren Krafchik at the recent presentation of the group’s Open Budget Survey 2010. His core message: if government transparency and budget accountability are our goals, broader engagement with civil society is a good place to start.
We were lucky enough to attend one of the formal release events of the survey here in Washington; featured were Krafchik (director of IBP), Vivek Ramkumar (also of IBP), and Gregory Adams (Director of the Aid Effectiveness Team at Oxfam America). This year’s survey found an overall improvement in country scores when it comes to budget transparency, although there is still plenty of room for improvement. Among IBP’s key findings:
Even with the overall improvements, the world (i.e. most national governments) is still doing poorly on budget transparency. The average for the total of the countries surveyed was 42 out of 100. Some of these countries have the necessary budget data and reports ready and available but choose not to publicly disclose them. IBP contends that these governments could greatly improve their budget transparency almost immediately and at very low cost by simply publishing that information and inviting public participation in the budgeting process. The main challenge is the apparent lack of political will to do so.
The data show that countries which rely on oil and gas revenue, receive significant amounts of foreign aid, and/or have authoritarian governments consistently receive lower scores on the survey. The exceptions (like South Africa, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Colombia), however, demonstrate that budget transparency and accountability can be achieved if it is made a priority by the government.
Finally, IBP’s big message is that greater budget transparency can lead to better government oversight, better policy choices, better access to credit, and greater legitimacy for governments themselves. In other words, budget transparency is not just an end in and of itself but a means for achieving greater participation and accountability across much of the public sector and civic life.
A final interesting finding highlighted during the release event was that development assistance does not always correlate with transparency and accountability, and the primary driver of this is lack of transparency from aid donors. Aid accountability is therefore crucial to promoting government accountability, argued IBP and Oxfam.
The report, findings, methodology, and policy recommendations can be found on the Open Budget Survey website.
— Jose Martinez