Over the last year I have been working on one of the most interesting global transparency projects – the Open Budget Index. A few weeks back the final results have finally been published after our lengthy review process. Unfortunately, these results shed a disappointing light on government approaches around the globe: 74 of our 94 countries surveyed fail to meet basic transparency standards! This means that normal citizens cannot obtain even the most basic information on their national budgets. Find more information on the findings on the project website.
With the index we look at 123 indicators in public budgets and primarily check the availability of key budget documents like the executive’s annual budget proposal as well as the quality of the data they include. Other questions are concerned with access to documents, the openness and involvement of legislatures or the quality of other budget institutions like auditors. 91 of these indicators make it into the final score. You can find the ranking of all 94 countries here.
Three findings are particularly interesting I think: Firstly, the state of budget transparency does not rely on a country’s state of economic development. South Africa as the overall top scorer illustrates this best. Secondly, the ‘resource curse’ is a phenomenon we tend to support with our findings. Countries highly dependent on hydrocarbons also have lower scores in our index. Thirdly, with data over three periods now (2006, 2008, 2010 – and 2012 beginning to be in the making) we can observe that budget transparency is not a static process and that in particularly countries with poor or mediocre performances do start to move. Countries like Liberia or Mongolia have shown a positive and strong upward trend thanks to clear political leadership. Others like Fiji, following a coup, show a downward trend. This, if nothing else, shows very clearly, how budget transparency is a political process and many governments around the world can and need to do much more to empower their citizens when it comes to the most important policy document of any country – its budget.
Rich data sets with answers to all questions are available for further research. You can obtain them either from the website or through me or the facilitators at IBP in Washington DC. We are grateful for any hints on anyone who researches or works on budget transparency. Do get in touch!