Highlights
 
Quotable
War vies with magic in its efforts to get something for nothing...
Lewis Mumford
Original Letters Blog US Casualties Contact Donate

 
February 2, 2009

Report: Most Citizens Kept in Dark on Govt Spending

by Jim Lobe

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. Transform Lives."

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 purposes.

"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 then.

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 was 39.

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," he said.

Donors should also increase technical assistance for civil society, legislatures, and audit institutions to improve accountability and oversight, the report said.

(Inter Press Service)


comments on this article?
 
 
Archives

  • US Jews Open to Palestinian Unity Govt
    3/26/2009

  • Bipartisan Experts Urge 'Partnership' With Russia
    3/17/2009

  • Obama Administration Insists It's Neutral in Salvador Poll
    3/14/2009

  • NGOs Hail Congressional Moves to Ease Embargo
    3/12/2009

  • Call to 'Resist and Deter' Nuclear Iran Gains Key Support
    3/7/2009

  • Washington Ends Diplomatic Embargo of Syria
    3/4/2009

  • Diplomatic, Aid Spending Set to Rise Under Obama Budget
    2/28/2009

  • Many Muslims Reject Terror Tactics, Back Some Goals
    2/26/2009

  • Lugar Report Calls for New Cuba Policy
    2/24/2009

  • U.S.-Israel Storm Clouds Ahead?
    2/20/2009

  • Calls Mount for Obama to Appoint 'Truth Commission'
    2/20/2009

  • Washington's Praise of Venezuelan Vote Suggests Détente
    2/19/2009

  • Rightward Shift in Israeli Polls Creates New Headaches
    2/13/2009

  • US Advised to Back Somalia Reconciliation Efforts
    2/12/2009

  • Hawks Urge Boosting Military Spending
    2/5/2009

  • More Troops, More Worries,
    Less Consensus on Afghanistan
    2/4/2009

  • Report: Most Citizens Kept in Dark on Govt Spending
    2/2/2009

  • Obama Raises Hopes of
    Mideast Experts
    1/28/2009

  • Obama Picks Israel-Arab, Afghanistan-Pakistan Negotiators
    1/23/2009

  • Rights Groups Applaud Move to Halt Gitmo Trials
    1/22/2009

  • Obama Offers Internationalist Vision
    1/21/2009

  • Around the World, High Hopes for Obama
    1/20/2009

  • Liberals, Realists Set to Clash in Obama Administration
    1/19/2009

  • Obama Urged to Take Bold Steps Toward Cuba Normalization
    1/15/2009

  • Bush Foreign Policy Legacy Widely Seen as Disastrous
    1/14/2009

  • Clinton Stresses 'Cooperative Engagement,' 'Smart Power'
    1/14/2009

  • Networks' Int'l News Coverage at Record Low in 2008
    1/6/2009

  • Amnesty Calls on Rice to Drop 'Lopsided' Gaza Stance
    1/3/2009

  • Israeli Attack May Complicate Obama's Plans
    12/30/2008

  • Report: Recognizing Hamas Could Help Peace
    12/19/2008

  • Business Groups Support Dismantling Cuba Embargo
    12/8/2008

  • Mumbai Massacre Seen as Major Blow to Regional Strategy
    12/5/2008

  • Obama Urged to Quickly Engage Iran, Syria
    12/3/2008

  • Diplomacy, Multilateralism Stressed by Obama Team
    12/2/2008

  • Obama Foreign Policy: Realists to Reign?
    11/28/2008

  • Hemispheric Group Calls for Major Changes in Americas Policy
    11/25/2008

  • Greybeards Urge Overhaul of Global Governance
    11/21/2008

  • Intelligence Analysts See Multi-Polar, Risky World By 2025
    11/21/2008

  • Obama Urged to Strengthen Ties with UN
    11/20/2008

  • Obama-Tied Think-Tank Calls for Pakistan Shift
    11/18/2008

  • Obama Advised to Forgo More Threats to Iran
    11/17/2008

  • First, Close Gitmo,
    Say Rights Groups
    11/11/2008

  • Obama's Foreign Policy:
    No Sharp Break From Bush
    11/11/2008

  • Coca Cultivation Up Despite Six Years of Plan Colombia
    11/7/2008

  • Obama to Seek Global Re-engagement, But How Much?
    11/6/2008

  • Two, Three, Many Grand Bargains?
    11/3/2008

  • Moving Towards a 'Grand Bargain' in Afghanistan
    10/19/2008

  • Top Ex-Diplomats Slam 'Militarization' of Foreign Policy
    10/16/2008

  • Bush Set to Go With a Whimper, Not a Bang
    10/15/2008

  • Pakistan 'Greatest Single Challenge' to Next President
    10/8/2008

  • Senate Passes Nuke Deal Over Escalation Fears
    10/3/2008

  • Brief Talks With Syria Spur Speculation
    10/1/2008

  • Iran Resolution Shelved in Rare Defeat for AIPAC
    9/27/2008

  • Bipartisan Group Urges Deeper Diplomacy with Muslim World
    9/25/2008

  • White House Still Cautious on Georgia
    9/6/2008
  • More Archives


    Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

    Reproduction of material from any original Antiwar.com pages
    without written permission is strictly prohibited.
    Copyright 2014 Antiwar.com