On 5 February 2013 the IBP and the World Bank co-hosted the Washington, D.C. release of the Open Budget Survey 2012. The event brought together government representatives from three very different country contexts – Afghanistan, Liberia, and Brazil – with practitioners in the field of fiscal management to discuss how to accelerate improvements in budget transparency and public participation around the world. Vivek Ramkumar, the IBP’s director of International Advocacy and the Open Budget Initiative, presented on the results of the Survey, highlighting the key findings.
Liberia’s Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, Amara Konneh, stated that a key incentive for his country to make such improvements in budget transparency is to show donors that the country manages aid properly. Liberia also placed an electronic billboard in front of their Ministry of Finance (MOF). The billboard displays budget expenditure information that pulls directly from MOF data systems. Such information enhances open debates in the legislature, and coupled with information gathered through public consultations across the country, helps the government link the budget to national development priorities.
Brazil’s Deputy Secretary of the Budget Planning Ministry, Eliomar Wesley Rios, also emphasized the importance of public participation in explaining his country’s high score of 73. Brazil (Facebook Inc.’s second largest market after the United States) uses digital technology to bring civil society closer to government and help citizens understand the budget process. The government also holds state-level public hearings to identify needs and guide the allocation of resources. In the future the Ministry of Planning will use the Open Budget Questionnaire as a guide to enhance transparency mechanisms.
While reaching the public is a relatively seamless process in Brazil, it proved to be more of a challenge in conflict-ridden Afghanistan. But as Mustafa Mastoor, Afghanistan’s Deputy Minister of Finance, noted, the country still managed to increase its Open Budget Index score from 21 in 2010 to 59 in 2012. Citing political will as a major driver of this change, the government and its partners built a public finance roadmap that has helped improve transparency in the budget process and build confidence in their public financial management systems.
A score of 59 is a big improvement for the country, but Mastoor said they “still have a long way to go,” citing Brazil’s performance as Afghanistan’s goal. He sees a need to improve the quality of data and for transparency reforms to become institutionalized so as to avoid a Survey score regression in the future.
These examples serve as lessons for other countries on how to improve their scores on the Open Budget Survey (for more recommendations for governments and other actors, read the Open Budget Survey 2012 Report). Vice president of the World Bank Institute and co-host of the event, Sanjay Pradhan, additionally highlighted the importance of donors supporting such innovations as participatory mobile technology and described the WBI’s BOOST initiative, which geocodes treasury data and overlays it with development data, making it all available online. These improvements accelerate budget transparency, which Pradhan described as an “instrument to get basic services to the poor.” He said the fact that the average score in the Survey is less than half is a “damning indictment for many of our countries.”
When asked why so many countries are doing badly, Warren Krafchik, director of the International Budget Partnership, said that just 15 years ago secrecy was the norm; but now every international institution, multiple governments, and civil society agree that open and transparent budgets are important for an equitable distribution of resources. This drive for change comes from both the top and the bottom because there is now wide acceptance that “budgets are the gateway to development.”
You can read a transcript of the event here and our tweets at @OpenBudgets. Check out our Facebook page to see photos and a video. Read more about the Open Budget Survey and see how your country compares by visiting our website.