Budget transparency is declining, global survey reveals

30 Jan 18

Efforts to make budgets more transparent have stalled for the first time in a decade, a survey by the International Budget Partnership has found.

This is weakening trust in governments and increasing inequality, The Open Budget Survey 2017 has found.

The partnership - a network of civil societies across the world - concluded 89 out of 115 countries failed to publish “sufficient” budget information for the public, decreasing the overall transparency score to 42 out of 100, down from 45 in 2015. The report is published every two years.

Vivek Ramkumar, senior director of policy at the IBP, told PF: “There are major gaps in the levels of budget information that governments are making available to citizens.

“Overall progress towards greater budget transparency has declined for the first time since we began measuring it. “

He added that decline in transparency comes at a time where the global context is changing rapidly.

“We are concerned that transparency is declining at a time of democratic recession and dramatic increases in inequality around the world,” Ramkumar said.

“More broadly, across countries we see a shrinking of civic spaces, rollbacks of media freedoms, and crackdowns on those who are seeking to hold government to account. We therefore are keen to ensure that the transparency trends are reversed as quickly as possible.”  

The findings suggested sub-Saharan Africa had declined the most in terms of transparency, with an average drop of 11 points between 2015 and 2017.

Ramkumar and IBP executive director Warren Krafchik told PF there was no single reason why transparency had declined in the region, but the drop was concerning because of the significant progress sub-Saharan Africa had achieved in the recent surveys.

The group called on governments to publish all budget documentation online in a timely manner and to establish or strengthen oversight institutions. It also called for stronger participation opportunities for the public to ensure a more inclusive budgetary process.

Krafchik said: “A lack of a clear single cause across all countries also means that there is no clear single course of action, so the real solution here is a very broad and integrated strategy amongst a variety of actors in the economy, both legislators, auditors, civil societies and donors, to work together, not only to reverse the trends but more importantly continuing the upward trend that we were on prior to the survey.

“What’s particularly concerning is that the results will reinforce, rather than mitigate two unfortunate global trends – declining democracy and increasing inequality – and may serve to further drive public anger at corruption and distrust in government.”

But he added that an opportunity presented itself as budgets sit “at the nexus of democracy and inequality”.  

“Budgets can be used as a powerful instrument to deepen democracy by including the public in real meaningful dialogue, and to reduce inequality by ensuring that through an open dialogue public resources are allocated to public priorities.”

Ramkumar said governments had simply stopped publishing key budget documents that were available internally.

He said: “This has happened due to a number of reasons in different countries – ranging from war, election cycles, staff turnover and bureaucratic lethargy.”

“But we do need to study these issues more to understand what has happened – and more importantly what we can do to reverse it.”

The survey, which examined 115 countries across six continents, also revealed that most countries do not provide an opportunity for citizens to participate in the budgetary process.

Despite the recent backwards trend, a number of countries have experienced significant gains in transparency since they were first included in the survey. They include Georgia, Jordan, Mexico and Senegal. The South Asia region had also improved its transparency score by five points since 2015.

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