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Open Budgets

Every year, governments collect and spend billions of taxpayer funds to pay for public services like education and healthcare. The public has a right to know how that money is allocated and how it is spent. Making budgets open to public input and scrutiny can help ensure that government planning and spending align with public priorities. In particular, people should be able to see that money is spent equitably, addressing the needs of women, people with disabilities, youth, and low-income groups, among others. OGP members have made their budgets increasingly transparent, yet more work remains for governments to proactively increase civic participation and oversight.

Open Gov Challenge: Fiscal Openness

With OGP’s 2023-2028 Strategy, OGP members are set to work toward a number of aspirational thematic reforms through the Open Gov Challenge. This section of the Open Gov Guide addresses Fiscal Openness.

Challenge prompt: Advance public oversight and inclusion reforms across the budget and spending cycle.

Actions and reforms covering budgeting, revenue, spending and auditing could include:

  • Promoting participatory mechanisms, targeting underrepresented groups, to inform spending priorities.
  • Combining online and offline tools to promote participation across the budget and spending cycle.

Key Terms

Definitions for key terms such as budget openness, gender-responsive budgeting, and participatory budgeting.

  • Budget cycle: The budget cycle covers the formation, approval, execution (including procurement), and audit stages of budgeting.
  • Budget openness: This refers to government actions that ensure transparency and public engagement at any stage of the budget cycle. This includes transparency and participation in spending and revenues, as well as the management of deficits and debt.
  • Gender-responsive budgeting: Gender-responsive budgeting is a process to ensure equity in budgets that involves gender budget analysis, budget reallocation, and stakeholder engagement. This budgeting process promotes public accountability and transparency in public finance planning and management, and increases representation in participatory budget processes.
  • Participatory budgeting: Participatory budgeting is a deliberative process in which community members decide how to spend part of a public budget.

The Evidence

Open budgets can improve governance and development outcomes, increase revenue, and lower borrowing rates through increased creditworthiness.

  • Transparency and participation in the budget process are consistently associated with improvements in the quality of the budget, such as a lower deficit, more targeted budget priorities, and increased operational efficiency. These values can also lead to better governance and development outcomes for different groups, such as reduced corruption and lower infant mortality rates.
  • Open budgets have been shown to build tax morale and increase revenue. This is especially true when governments implement participatory budgeting, as a study from Brazil shows. There, municipalities raised an additional 16 percent when they adopted participatory budgeting.
  • Budget transparency creates a virtuous cycle in public debt management—greater transparency can lead to lower borrowing costs, which in turn can lead to a lower level of debt and an increase in investment. Other studies similarly point to the connection between creditworthiness and budget transparency.
  • Participatory budgeting has been shown to improve public trust in government, increase civic participation and political know-how, increase tax revenue, and lead to better development outcomes through the redirection of spending to marginalized communities.

Reform Guidance

The recommendations below represent reforms that national and local governments, representatives of civil society organizations, and others can consider for their action plans and the Open Gov Challenge. The reforms are categorized according to OGP’s principal values: transparency, civic participation, and public accountability. Reforms should be adapted to fit the domestic context, and involve and coordinate with other levels and branches of government.

Reforms across policy areas are also tagged by the estimated degree of difficulty in implementation. Though progress is often not linear, the recommendations have been categorized using these labels to give the reader a sense of how different reforms can work together to raise the ambition of open government approaches.

Recommended Reforms Key

  • Transparency: Transparency empowers citizens to exercise their rights, hold the government accountable, and participate in decision-making processes. Examples of relevant activities include the proactive or reactive publication of government-held information, legal or institutional frameworks to strengthen the right to access information, and disclosing information using open data standards.

  • Civic Participation: When people are engaged, governments and public institutions are more responsive, innovative, and effective. Examples of relevant initiatives include new or improved processes and mechanisms for the public to contribute to decisions, participatory mechanisms to involve underrepresented groups in policy making, and a legal environment that guarantees civil and political rights.

  • Public Accountability: Public accountability occurs when public institutions must justify their actions, act upon requirements and criticisms, and take responsibility for failure to perform according to laws or commitments. Importantly, public accountability means that members of the public can also access and trigger accountability mechanisms. Examples of relevant activities include citizen audits of performance, new or improved mechanisms or institutions that respond to citizen-initiated appeals processes, and improved access to justice.

  • Inclusion: Inclusion is fundamental to achieving more equitable, representative, and accountable policies that truly serve all people. This includes increasing the voice, agency, and influence of historically discriminated or underrepresented groups. Depending on the context, traditionally underrepresented groups may experience discrimination based on gender, sexual identity, race, ethnicity, age, geography, differing ability, legal, or socioeconomic status.

  • Foundational: This tag is used for reforms that are the essential building blocks of a policy area. “Foundational” does not mean low ambition or low impact. These recommendations often establish basic legal frameworks and institutional structures.

  • Intermediate: This tag is used for reforms that are complex and often involve coordination and outreach between branches, institutions, and levels of government, with the public or between countries.

  • Advanced: This tag is used for reforms that close important loopholes to make existing work more effective and impactful. Specifically, “Advanced” reforms are particularly ambitious, innovative or close important loopholes to make existing work more effective, impactful or sustainable. They are often applied in mature environments where they seek to institutionalize a good practice that has already shown results.

  • Executive: The executive branch of government is responsible for designing, implementing, and enforcing laws, policies, and initiatives. It is typically led by the head of state or government, such as a president or prime minister, along with their appointed cabinet members. The executive branch’s functions also include overseeing the day-to-day operations of the government, managing foreign affairs, and directing the country’s armed forces. In democratic systems, the executive branch is accountable to the legislature and the electorate, with its powers and limitations outlined in the constitution or legal framework of the respective country.

  • Legislative: The legislative branch of government is responsible for making laws and regulations and overseeing the functioning of the government. It typically consists of a body of elected representatives, such as a parliament, congress, or assembly, which is tasked with proposing, debating, amending, and ultimately passing legislation. The legislative branch plays a crucial role in representing the interests of the people, as its members are elected to office by the public. In addition to law-making, this branch often holds the power to levy taxes, allocate funds, and conduct certain investigations into matters of public concern. The structure and powers of the legislative branch are usually outlined in a country’s constitution or legal framework, and it serves as a check on the executive and judicial branches to ensure a system of checks and balances within a state.

What does “timely publication” mean?

IBP requires the timely publication of each key budget document to meet its open budget criteria. IBP’s deadlines are as follows:

  • Pre-Budget Statement: At least one month before the Executive’s Budget Proposal is submitted to the legislature for consideration
  • Executive’s Budget Proposal and Supporting Documents: While the legislature is still considering the budget proposal and before it is enacted
  • Citizens Budget: Within the same time frame as the Pre-Budget Statement and Executive’s Budget Proposal
  • Enacted Budget: No later than three months after the budget is approved by the legislature
  • In-Year Reports: No later than three months after the reporting period ends
  • Mid-Year Review: No later than three months after the reporting period ends, typically at the midpoint of the fiscal year
  • Year-End Report: No later than 12 months after the end of the fiscal year
  • Audit Report: No later than 18 months after the end of the fiscal year

Examples of Reforms from OGP and Beyond

The following examples are commitments made within or beyond OGP that demonstrate elements of the recommendations made above. Budget transparency is part of OGP’s eligibility requirements, and fiscal openness as a whole is the most popular policy area among members. Beyond increasing the transparency of budgets and other fiscal information, OGP members are also publishing data on the use of emergency funds (such as for COVID-19) and information on the state of public debt.

OGP Reforms
  • CÔTE D’IVOIRE Online Citizens Budget: Uploads an annual Citizens Budget online starting in 2019 to explain the budget process to the public. Newer versions of the budget also set desired results for expenditures rather than only focusing on expenses incurred. Also committed to institutionalizing participatory budgeting practices at the local level.
  • FINLAND Spending Transparency on the Public Procurement Portal: Expanded its public procurement portal to include spending in near-real time, which can be sorted by government agency (known as “administrative branches”).
  • LITHUANIA Municipal Finance Data Portal: Created a data portal for all municipalities in the country related to state and local revenue and expenses, debts, and unemployment, as well as national budget details. The portal also includes public and private recipients of public funding and the use of tax revenue.
  • MALAWI Parliamentary Oversight of New Loans: Committed to mandating the referral of loan bills to the Parliament’s Budget and Finance Committee, which then presents its findings to the National Assembly to ensure parliamentarians can track new loans.
  • MONGOLIA Law to Publish Government Budgets: Adopted a law to make government budgetary information publicly available, which led to the launch of the Glass Accounts portal in 2015. Continued work on this topic also led to the expansion of the number of agencies that must upload information on their budgets, finances, and public procurement.
  • MONTENEGRO Debt Transparency Commitment: Committed to making data on local governments’ revenues, expenditures, and tax debts more transparent, particularly in an open data format.
  • NORTH MACEDONIA Open Finance Data Portal: Launched a database on budget expenditures in 2019 for institutions administered under the Treasury, which media organizations have already begun to access for investigative reporting.
  • PAPUA NEW GUINEA Commitment to Increase Budget Transparency: Committed to increasing budget transparency through several commitments in the 2022–2024 action plan: passing a law on budget transparency, publishing fiscal data (including subnationally), and publishing annual audit reports.
  • QUINTANA ROO, MEXICO Budget Transparency Platform: Co-created a budget transparency platform that provides information on the budget cycle in open data format, with cross-cutting annexes on gender and anti-corruption. Committed to making the platform more user-friendly.
  • SCOTLAND, UNITED KINGDOM Review Process for Spending Plans: Implemented several reforms related to budget transparency, particularly creating a Spending Review Framework that sets criteria for future spending plans through dialogues between actors such as parliamentary committees, government officials, and public bodies.
  • URUGUAY Public Feedback on Budget Transparency: Conducted several consultations with users of the budget transparency portal and incorporated feedback, such as adding new content, revising existing content to be more readable, improving the search function, and ensuring that data is published according to the Open Fiscal Data Package.
Beyond OGP Action Plans
  • BRAZIL Transparency Portal for COVID-19 Emergency Spending: Created a page on its Transparency Portal (Portal da Transparência, Controladoria-Geral da União) to track planned and actual federal spending on coronavirus relief efforts with open data.
  • ESTONIA Budget Transparency Data Portal: Created a budget data portal that includes monthly reports on the spending and accounting information of municipalities, and both state and municipal-owned agencies and companies.
  • GHANA Auditing App for Public Engagement and Transparency: Launched a mobile app (CITIZENSEYE) through the Ghana Audit Service to track the use of public funds and engage the public on audit plans and programs. Since its launch, a Kenyan delegation from its Office of the Auditor-General visited the country to learn about the app.
  • INDONESIA Commitment to Fully Distribute Fuel Subsidies to Fisherfolk: Committed to simplifying the process for fisherfolk to register for fuel subsidies, following analysis from women leaders to diagnose the obstacles to receiving these funds, in partnership with the IBP and the national fishing union.

The Role of Local Governments

The first 20 local governments to join OGP showed that fiscal openness commitments at the local level can be particularly effective. Over 30 percent of their fiscal openness commitments led to strong early results, and 80 percent of their participatory budgeting commitments were ambitious. According to OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism, “ambitious” in this context means that a commitment, if fully implemented, has the potential to yield meaningful results by changing the practices, policies, or institutions related to a given policy area.

Participatory budgeting (PB) can be particularly effective at the local level. In fact, the city of Porto Alegre (Brazil) implemented the first PB initiative as an anti-poverty measure, where it helped reduce infant mortality by 20 percent. Over 7,000 cities worldwide now use this tool to determine how budgets will be allocated for areas such as housing and education. Findings from People Powered show that participatory budgeting can improve public trust in government, increase civic participation and political know-how, increase tax revenue, and lead to better development outcomes through the redirection of spending to marginalized communities.

Who is working on this topic?

Abuja, Nigeria
Albania Albania
Argentina Argentina
Armavir, Armenia
Armenia Armenia
Austin, United States
Bogotá, Colombia
Brazil Brazil
Burkina Faso Burkina Faso
Chile Chile
Colombia Colombia
Costa Rica Costa Rica
Côte d'Ivoire Côte D'ivoire
Croatia Croatia
Dominican Republic Dominican Republic
Ecuador Ecuador
Elgeyo Marakwet, Kenya
Estonia Estonia
Finland Finland
France France
Georgia Georgia
Germany Germany
Glasgow, United Kingdom
Greece Greece
Guatemala Guatemala
Honduras Honduras
Indonesia Indonesia
Ireland Ireland
Israel Israel
Italy Italy
Jalisco, Mexico
Jordan Jordan
Kaduna State, Nigeria
Kenya Kenya
Khoni, Georgia
Kyrgyz Republic Kyrgyz Republic
La Libertad, Peru
Latvia Latvia
Liberia Liberia
Madrid, Spain
Mexico Mexico
Mongolia Mongolia
Morocco Morocco
Nandi, Kenya
Nigeria Nigeria
North Macedonia
Osasco, Brazil
Ozurgeti, Georgia
Panama Panama
Papua New Guinea
Paraguay Paraguay
Paris, France
Philippines Philippines
Republic of Korea Republic Of Korea
Republic of Moldova Republic Of Moldova
Romania Romania
San Pedro Garza García, Mexico
São Paulo, Brazil
Scotland, United Kingdom
Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana
Senegal Senegal
Shama, Ghana
Sierra Leone Sierra Leone
Slovak Republic Slovak Republic
South Africa South Africa
South Cotabato, Philippines
Spain Spain
Sri Lanka Sri Lanka
Tbilisi, Georgia
Timișoara, Romania
Tunisia Tunisia
United Kingdom United Kingdom
United States United States

This list reflects members with commitments in the “Public Participation in Budget Fiscal Policy” policy area of the Data Dashboard.

Active OGP Partners

Benchmarking Data

The OGP 2023-2028 Strategy sets out the Open Gov Challenge and aims to provide clear benchmarks for performance through reliable data.

While benchmarks for individual countries and Open Gov Guide recommendations are not yet integrated, for this chapter, interested individuals may rely on the following data sets:

  • IBP conducts the Open Budget Survey, which evaluates the degree of transparency, public participation, and oversight of budgets in over 120 countries. As part of the survey, users can find country rankings and reports, as well as a data explorer that includes a calculator with the survey indicators and historical data.
  • The World Bank hosts the BOOST Open Budget Portal, a one-stop shop to connect users to participating countries’ itemized fiscal data in an open data format.
  • OGP commitments on this topic can be found on the Data Dashboard.

Guidance & Standards

While the list below is not exhaustive, it aims to provide a range of recommendations, standards, and analysis to guide reform in this policy area.

  • Beyond its annual Open Budget Survey, IBP provides guidance on how to achieve greater transparency in the executive budget. The organization also provides comprehensive recommendations for what to include in the eight key budget documents necessary for budget transparency. Other guidance includes how to create a Citizens Budget, how to strengthen audit accountability and impact, and how to implement gender-responsive budgeting.
  • GIFT, which is currently hosted by IBP, published High-Level Principles on Fiscal Transparency, Participation, and Accountability in 2012, which were endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly that same year. GIFT has also published several useful guides related to open budgets, such as principles for public participation and a guide to advancing fiscal transparency. The organization also created an open fiscal data package to provide technical guidance both for governments that want to publish budgeting and spending data and for users of such data, such as journalists and researchers.
  • Through its Fiscal Transparency Code, the IMF created a set of principles on reporting, forecasting and planning, risk analysis and management, and revenue management. The IMF also offers several guidelines on specific topics within fiscal transparency, such as the Public Investment Management Assessment handbook (including a new tool to evaluate public investments through a climate lens), resources to manage risk in public-private partnerships, and the Tax Administration Diagnostic Assessment Tool to evaluate tax administration functions, processes, and institutions.
  • The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), in collaboration with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, developed an international framework to improve good governance in the public sector, with an emphasis on standards for strong financial management policies and practices. IFAC also supports the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board, which aims to improve public sector financial reporting through its International Public Sector Accounting Standards.
  • The OECD Budget Transparency Toolkit sets standards and provides guidance related to budget transparency in collaboration with members of the GIFT network—the IMF, World Bank, IBP, IFAC, and Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA). The OECD has also published guidance on the best practices for gender-responsive budgeting.
  • PEFA offers a diagnostic framework for governments to evaluate their public financial management (PFM) performance, as well as resources on specific PFM topics, such as a book on the relationship between PFM and good governance and a toolkit on the role of PFM in disaster response. PEFA also produces a global report on PFM and a stocktaking analysis of trends in how countries use the organization’s diagnostic tools.
  • The International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) created a set of principles for transparency and accountability to guide the governance and practices of audit institutions.
  • The Accountability Research Center assessed citizen participation in the auditing process throughout Latin America, with a focus on progress at the subnational level, practices by Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) in the region, and how civil society uses data from SAIs. This report draws on discussions from the International Seminar on Citizen Participation and External Auditing, held in September 2020.
  • People Powered published The Participation Playbook, an interactive tool to help advocates, policy makers, and program managers in government offices or CSOs plan and implement participatory tools, including participatory budgeting. People Powered has also published a review of the effectiveness of participatory budgeting laws at the national level.
  • The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Standard includes requirements for participating countries to disclose fiscal data related to the extractive sector, such as projected revenues expected from the sector and public subsidies given to the sector.
  • The G20 Anti-Corruption Open Data Principles provides a standard for open data that applies to policy areas such as budget and fiscal transparency, public procurement, and political finance.
Open Government Partnership