With the third Annual Open Government Partnership Summit fast approaching, current OGP member countries are in the process of developing their second Action Plans and future members are developing their initial commitments. In this light, we wondered how member governments are doing in relation to one of the focus governance areas of the OGP — fiscal transparency — and what they can do to improve. One of the most important functions of government is to manage public funds to provide critical services and otherwise meet the needs of its people. To best ensure effective fiscal management, the International Budget Partnership (IBP) — and a growing body of evidence — argues that governments should provide citizens with complete and timely information throughout the budget cycle and meaningful opportunities to participate in budget decision making and oversight. Recognizing the importance of open and accountable budgeting, the OGP requires governments that wish to be part of the initiative to release two critical budget reports: the Executive’s Budget Proposal and the Audit Report. And, several OGP member countries have included fiscal transparency reforms in their OGP commitments.

So, how transparent are OGP countries’ budgets?

In January 2013 the IBP released the Open Budget Survey 2012 (OBS), the only independent, comparative, and regular measure of budget transparency, participation, and accountability around the world. The OBS 2012 covered 100 countries, including 36 OGP member countries and future member countries that are developing their commitments (the analysis and recommendations that follow include all 36). The Open Budget Index (OBI) is calculated from a subset of OBS questions that measure the information that governments make publicly available in eight key budget reports that should be released throughout the budget process. The OBI assigns a transparency score that ranges from 0-100 for each country surveyed. The average OBI 2012 score for OGP member countries is 59 —higher than both the overall average score of 43 and the non-OGP country average score of 34. Countries that earn a score of 61 or higher are considered to provide significant budget information to citizens and civil society organizations, which enables them to effectively monitor and hold their governments to account for raising and spending public funds. In 2012 only 23 of the 100 countries in the OBS earned such scores, including 15 OGP countries. While this result is encouraging, there are still 18 OGP members that provide only some (OBI scores from 41 to 60) budget information and, most disturbing, Dominican Republic, Macedonia and Trinidad and Tobago provide only minimal information (OBI scores of 21 to 40). This means that citizens don’t have a full picture of what their governments have committed to spend public funds on or what has actually been spent, and how.

OGP (and Prospective)Member Countries
Country

OBI 2010 score

OBI 2012 score

Albania

33

47

Argentina

56

50

Azerbaijan

43

42

Brazil

71

73

Bulgaria

56

65

Chile

72

66

Colombia

61

58

Costa Rica

47

50

Croatia

57

61

Czech Republic

62

75

Dominican Republic

14

29

El Salvador

37

43

Georgia

55

55

Guatemala

50

51

Honduras

11

53

Indonesia

51

62

Italy

58

60

Jordan

50

57

Kenya

49

49

Macedonia

49

35

Mexico

52

61

Norway

83

83

Peru

65

57

Philippines

55

48

Romania

59

47

Slovakia

57

67

South Africa

92

90

South Korea

71

75

Spain

63

63

Sweden

83

84

Tanzania

45

47

Trinidad and Tobago

33

38

Turkey

57

50

Ukraine

62

54

United Kingdom

87

88

United States

82

79

 Are OGP countries improving?

In their OGP Action Plans to improve governance, several countries, including Indonesia, committed to increasing their Open Budget Index scores and the latest OBS shows signs that some are making progress on these commitments.  The average OBI 2010 score for OGP member countries was 57, and in 2012 it was 59. The country with the greatest improvement between 2010 and 2012 was OGP member Honduras, which increased its score by 42 points by publishing all key budget documents assessed. The Dominican Republic, another OGP country, published the Executive’s Budget Proposal online for the first time, and Indonesia improved its OBI score by 11 points. Other improvers include Argentina, Bulgaria, Colombia, and Slovakia, each of which published the Audit Report, a document that none of them had published according to the 2010 OBS. Many of these improvements came from the governments simply publishing documents that they were already producing (but not making publicly available) for their internal use and for donors.

The next frontier — do OGP countries engage citizens in the budget process?

Budget transparency alone is not sufficient for effective and accountable budgeting; there also needs to be opportunities for citizens and civil society organizations to inform budget decisions, monitor public service delivery and other budget implementation, and play an oversight role. In recognition of this, the IBP expanded the OBS section on public engagement in budget formulation, approval, execution, and auditing in the 2012 survey. However, the results were not encouraging, either overall or for the OGP countries surveyed — disappointing given the OGP’s emphasis on public participation in governance. The average public engagement score in 2012 for all 100 countries surveyed was a mere 19 of 100. Though coming in above this dismal average, the OGP member countries still averaged only 29 out of 100. There were hopeful signs, however. The stand out performer on public participation was South Korea, whose efforts to engage the public throughout the budget process (like its online platforms where anybody can give feedback on budget execution) earned it an impressive 92. Other emerging best practices found included:

  • Trinidad and Tobago (future OGP member), where the Ministry of Finance holds “post-budget forums” and SMS messaging to gather public input into the proposed budget;
  • the supreme audit institutions in Colombia and Honduras train CSOs and citizens to conduct social audits on a number of important issues; and
  • during the legislative approval process in South Africa, members of the public have various spaces not only to attend but also to testify before the various committees voting on the budget.

How can OGP countries (and non-OGP countries) improve?

As current OGP members develop their next Action Plan, and as pending members complete their initial plans, they should considering the following in commitments to improve budget transparency:

  1. Establish as a goal OBI scores of 61 or higher by making more comprehensive, detailed budget information available throughout the budget cycle, including information on “off budget” fiscal activities; and
  2. Substantially increase the opportunities for civil society organizations and citizens to participate in planning, monitoring and other budget processes throughout budget cycle.

In terms of participation, there are some OGP and non-OGP governments that are engaging citizens in the budget process, but a few examples are not sufficient. All governments should emulate some of the emerging good practices cited above to engage citizens in budget planning and oversight and develop innovative mechanisms. After all, aren’t citizens the clients of the services?

Open Budget Survey 2012 by Open Government Partnership

 

Authors: Michael Castro
Filed Under: Research