The vast majority of the world's governments
effectively deny citizens basic information they need to understand how public
monies are being spent, according to a new
report [.pdf] released Sunday by the International Budget Partnership (IBP),
a Washington-based project that works with civil society groups to promote
government transparency and improve accountability.
Of the 85 countries surveyed by the IBP, only five governments provided what
the study called "extensive" information about their budgets, while
another dozen made "significant" information available to their publics.
Best performers those with scores over 81 on a 100-point scale
included Britain, South Africa, France, New Zealand, and the United States,
in descending order.
But 68 of the countries or 80 percent do not provide the public
with comprehensive, timely, and useful information that citizens need to understand
and monitor the use of public funds, according to the "Open Budget Index"
designed by IBP to measure budget transparency.
And nearly half of the countries provided so little information publicly as
to make it virtually impossible to uncover waste, gross mismanagement, or corruption.
The worst performers those scoring zero or one on the scale include Sao
Tome e Principe, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),
Sudan, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria, according to the index.
"[O]verall, the state of budget transparency around the world is deplorable,"
the 55-page report found. "In most of the countries surveyed the public
does not have access to the comprehensive and timely information needed to
participate meaningfully in the budget process and to hold government to account."
"This lack of transparency encourages inappropriate, wasteful, and corrupt
spending and because it shuts the public out of decision making
reduces the legitimacy and impact of anti-poverty initiatives," among
other government programs, according to the report, entitled "Open Budgets.
The survey found that more developed countries tended to offer a higher degree
of transparency in their budgetary practices than less developed countries,
although there were significant exceptions.
Not only did South Africa rank second among all countries surveyed, but Brazil
took eighth place, just behind Norway and Sweden. Peru, Sri Lanka, Botswana,
Colombia, Papua New Guinea, and India were also ranked among the top 20.
"The high, good, and poor performers include low-, medium-, and high-income
countries," said Warren Krafchik, the IBP director. "In other words,
being poor or being dependent on aid or oil and gas revenues is not a sufficient
excuse to fail to provide adequate budget transparency."
The survey also found that many poor countries that currently provide insufficient
information to their publics are capable of doing so at little or no cost because
they already produce that information for their aid donors or for internal
"All these countries have to do is put the information they already have
available on the Internet," he told IPS. "The problem is not really
the production of information or the capacity to produce it. The problem is
the political willingness by the governments to disseminate that information
to their publics."
Indeed, he said, many countries have already taken steps to improve their
performance, compared to two years ago when the IBP produced its first survey.
Among them were Croatia and Bulgaria, whose accession to membership in the
European Union (EU) required them to increase transparency; Sri Lanka and Kenya,
where new governments proved responsive to demands reforms by civil society
groups; and Egypt, where a new constitutional amendment boosted the budgetary
powers of parliament.
"Whether the parliament will be able to use those powers effectively
or not remains to be seen," Krafchik said about the constitutional change
in Egypt, whose government has long been regarded as both corrupt and authoritarian.
The survey is based on a detailed questionnaire of more than 120 questions
focused on the contents and timeliness of eight key budget documents that all
governments should issue, according to generally accepted good-practice criteria
developed by multilateral organizations, such as the World Bank. The documents
cover the government's initial budget proposal through the final audit report
when the monies included in the budget have been spent. The survey was limited
to the budgets of national governments and did not include sub-national units.
The questionnaires were completed by independent researchers in each of the
countries surveyed, and their answers were subject to peer review to ensure
their accuracy. Each answer was then given a score, and the combined scores
determined the final rankings. As the questionnaires were submitted at the
end of September 2007, the survey does not cover governments' performance since
The worst performers were mostly located in the Middle East and North Africa,
followed by sub-Saharan Africa. In the Middle East and North Africa, the best
performer was Jordan with a score of 52, more than twice the regional average
of 24. The average of sub-Saharan Africa was 25, despite the strong performance
of South Africa (87) and Botswana (62). The average score for all 85 countries
The worst performers also tended to be low-income countries and often heavily
dependent on revenues from foreign aid or oil and gas exports. Altogether,
21 oil- and gas-producing countries were surveyed. Their average score was
23, despite relatively strong showings by Colombia, Norway, and Mexico. Of
the 13 worst performers, nine Sao Tome, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia,
Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Bolivia, and Chad are oil or gas producers.
By contrast, the 34 countries in the survey that are heavily dependent on
mineral wealth, such as gold, platinum, and silver, averaged a score of 44.
The survey also found a correlation between transparency and democratic systems,
with all of the 17 countries that provided either extensive or significant
budget information assessed as either "full" or "flawed"
democracies by the Economist Intelligence Unit's Index of Democracies.
Most of the worst performers, on the other hand, were classified as "hybrid"
or "authoritarian" regimes.
The report called for governments not only to publish more information about
their budgets, but to also produce "Citizens Budgets" that would
be easily understandable to the public. Seventeen governments, including Angola,
Ghana, India, and Uganda, currently produce them, although they vary considerably
in how much information they provide.
The report also urged donor agencies to do more to encourage governments to
inform their citizens both by increasing the transparency of their own aid
and avoiding funding that is not included in the recipient's budget.
"Wherever possible, aid should flow through country budgets," said
Krafchik, who added that this would not act as leverage for increased transparency,
but also ease the burden on governments themselves that receive aid from multiple
sources and must account to each of them. "This would reduce the incredible
strain on the monitoring and reporting capacities of the recipient governments,"
Donors should also increase technical assistance for civil society, legislatures,
and audit institutions to improve accountability and oversight, the report
(Inter Press Service)