Why is your government not more transparent?

Apr 24, 2009 | Budget Transparency | 8 comments

Here is a question to YOU: Why isn’t your government more transparent with regard to its budget? Let us have your thoughts here on the blog,  in the Facebook group, on Twitter or at [email protected]

The Open Budget Initiative recently reported on the budget transparency of 85 countries. You will find a completed questionnaire on budget transparency in your country here If you don’t want to read the whole thing, read a summary of your country’s transparency performance on the same page. If you are interested in where your country ranked compared to the other 84, click here.

I hope your country is one of the 86 surveyed in this round. If not, answer the question anyway , based on your own experience.


  1. Steven Devijver

    Thanks for fixing the link. Unfortunately and to my surprise neither Belgium or the Netherlands – both in the top 30 of wealthiest nations – made it to the list.

    It is my understanding – and this is not related to any particular country – that governments prefer not to be transparent in its budget – or anywhere else – because opacity is the most effective way to prevent radical change.

    If people don’t know what is going on they can’t do much to change anything. The only thing they can be concerned about is more transparency. If that’s the only front of friction then governments will have a pretty easy time to prevent beachheads from being established.

    Look at Germany for example. They get a pretty good score in the index. Germany is indeed one of the most open and transparent countries I know of, both on a local, regional and national level. There are constantly discussions going on on how to improve society in all kinds of ways and on all kinds of levels.

    Most countries are not ready for this. Most countries just want to survive, that is continue to exist. This self-preservation is in my opinion the most important reason for lack in transparency, including lack in budgetary transparency.


    • internationalbudget

      Thanks for this Steven. During a brief stint in government I was often keen to be transparent on some of the hard decisions. At least that way people could see what constraints we were acting under. Could this be a way leveraging transparency during the fiscal crisis?

      • Steven Devijver

        Thanks for your reply! As I’ve said above, lack of transparency in my opinion can be immediately linked to the self-preservation reflex of nation-states.

        In that respect, I believe transparency is synonymous to the question: in how far can citizens become part of the institution which is the nation-state?

        In all countries – even the most open ones – becoming part of the national bureaucracy is a difficult and inhibiting process. Bureaucrats are effectively a separate class in national society.

        The institutional model – which nation-states like to enforce on civic organizations in it’s own image, and which is based on the assumption of separation – is according to me the true obstacle to transparency.

        Separation promotes antagonism, and transparency is most often not considered to be a good defense to protect self-preservation.

        Open-communication is thus – in my opinion – not a very effective way to navigate the schism between nation-state as an institution and society as a community.

        Institutions try to manage risk, communities try to reduce uncertainty. These are so fundamentally different that in my opinion we will never be able to marry them in a satisfying way.

        The only thing I know is that social animals have community baked in them – ants, bees, dolphins, humans – and that risk is an illusion combining two other illusions: time and numbers.

        I put my money of the prevalence of community over institutions since when we’re in community we are in our natural state, and when we are part of institutions we have to believe in fictions in order to maintain coherence.


  2. Dedi Haryadi

    Infomation is power. Who’s control it will control the resources and power. Making budget transparency, means making new more balance power relation between government and its citizen. However no single government (ruling party) would ease their grip on power and reources voluntary. It is the reason why government (national, provincial and local) are reluctant to opening up public access to budget information. That is the main point that I extracted from my experience in advocating budget transparenccy in Indonesia. The implication for budget works activist is clear how to offer political incentives for those in power that enable them to open up public acces to budget information. Paradigm shifting is needed in advocating budget transparency: 1) CSO have to move from community based advocacy to political elite based one, 2) CSO have to intensified their advocacy in political arena, 3) CSO have to acquire new skill in formulating political incentives.


    Dedi Haryadi

    • internationalbudget

      Thanks Dedi. It is hard to disagree with the general rule that you state. But if this holds for all governments, it wouldn’t explain why some governments are more transparent than others, would it?


  3. Jose Maria Marin

    One of the reasons I have experienced of why governments are not more transparent is that they produce the budget information in response to their legal obligations. This means that the information provided is strictly that which is required by the laws for approval by the legislature. In some of the discussions we’ve recently had in Mexico with the Ministry of Finance around publishing a citizens budget is that, the information exists, however, it is framed in the accordance to the normative requirements, hence the citizens’ needs for information are not in their scheme of publishing information. This in turn requires an additional effort by the government to change these schemes and produce information in a format not required by law. This last effort must be accompanied by political will.

    Jose Maria Marin

    • internationalbudget

      Interesting line of thought, Jose. I read an interesting blogpost a week ago where Aaron Swartz argues that transparency laws makes governments less transparent – they just find better ways of hiding. Have a look: http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/transparencybunk

  4. MUNEZERO H. Bertrand

    Our government are not transparent just because they are still learning prnciples of good governance. You can`t be transparency if you don`t believe in good governance priciples. Then now our countries are learning, they are still at the beginning. We are from Dictatotrial and military regims where giving account to the citizens had less importance. Now we are adopting Democracy where citizens have a say. It`s written in the constitution and political will is getting manifested. However there is still a long journey to replace tradition gorvernance of Dictorship military leaderhip with good gorvernance principles among our leaders.

    Bertrand from Rwanda


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