Warren Krafchik - Director of the International Budget Project at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Vivek Ramkumar - Manager, Open Budget Initiative, International Budget Partnership
Andrew Lawson - Director Fiscus Limited
Andrew Bird - Principal Consultant, Council Adviser, Mokoro (tbc)
Vivek Ramkumar,Manager of the Open Budget Initiative started his presentation with a short video detailing history and aims of the Open Budget Index.
· There is currently a strong need for budget transparency in International discourse, particularly in regard to upcoming initiatives of climate finance and natural resource revenue management.The work undertaken by the International Budget Partnership is not merely an effort to evaluate budget processes. The partnership, and the methodology of the survey itself, is a process which can provide guidelines for governments aiming to improve budget transparency.
· Additionally, it helps inform civil society organisations wishing to analyse and influence budgets more effectively. Indeed the Open Budget Index was approached by the Brazilian government for advice on how to reform its budget processes.
· As the Survey becomes more established, it could be used to inform global standards on budget transparency. There is a particular lack of information regarding the processes and results of poverty reduction initiatives.
· There are no particular country characteristics which solely determine the level of budget transparency. There are examples of developed nations who score poorly in the index and of resource rich/dependent nations which score relatively highly. A number of low scoring countries have made significant progress since 2006.
· The survey is not intended to asses why countries perform well or poorly.
o Nevertheless improvements can sometimes be traced to certain events such as the election of new governments, appointments of new ministers etc.
o There is a strong relationship between low transparency and weak budget oversight institutions such as parliaments and Supreme Audit institutions.
o Improving oversight institutions is not an easy fix as the process time and resource intensive. Audit institutions are also often poorly funded and their function itself is politically sensitive. Audit staff effectively employed by their boss (the executive) and there is an understandable reluctance not to rock the boat when scrutinizing the budget and spending processes.
· Budget transparency can be improved surprisingly easily for many countries in one simple and immediate step: making budget documents publically available.
· Low scoring countries are primarily distinguished by their reluctance/lack of movement to publishbudget documents. Most governments produce the majority of the eight key budget documents and these can simply be made available online.
· While there are obvious issues with the capacity of budget oversight institutions in low scoring countries, many of these institutions already have the organisational capacity to evaluate budget processes more closely. The effectiveness of these institutions can therefore be improved relatively easily if they are given correct guidance on how to evaluate budget processes.
· Codified global norms can allow oversight institutions greater leverage over governments in regard to budget reform.
o There is a general consensus among international institutions over what constitutes budget transparency. Constructing a set of global norms over budget transparency is therefore something that can be accomplished within a relatively short timeframe.
o However, there is no consensus among international institutions, and especially governments, over how civil society should be involved in evaluating and influencing spending processes.
· Aid transparency primarily concerns recipients rather than donors and incentives for greater transparency should be introduced to aid instruments.
· Some of the biggest gains from transparency efforts can be made from strengthening oversight institutions through technical assistance, especially civil society organisations.
· It is clear that budget transparency is a necessary condition for good public spending decisions, but it is not sufficient.
o For example the UK government provides comprehensive information on spending, but some of these decisions are questionable in both their efficiency and desirability.
o It is therefore essential that organisations making use of budget information become more active in influencing spending decisions and holding government accountable for these decisions.
· The Survey should be commended for its rigorous methodology. In order to remain and effective tool for advocacy it is crucial that robustness be maintained.
o Lessons should be learnt from the backwards steps taken by the Transparency International Corruptions Perceptions Index. Changes over the years to the methodology of the index have weakened its credibility.
· The Survey can possibly improve in areas; for example through providing more information on public tenders; and on the revenue side, especially in regard to the management of natural resource revenues. In this latter, collaboration with Revenue Watch is a clear opportunity.
· There is also a need to distinguish between countries who are willing to improve and those who are not. Such information will better allow organisations to target reform efforts.
· Greater collaboration between the Open Budget Partnership and other organisations involved in similar work is desirable.
· The Open Budget Survey compares favourably with similar donor established initiatives for monitoring and comparing progress on reform and public accountability.
· However, there is still a need to approach reform initiatives in new ways. A less technically focused approach to reform and increased involvement of politicians in the reform process would be desirable.
· It important to be wary that reform is not always progressive. Governments are often not sustained beyond short periods. In order to promote more lasting reform it is important to look into the broad management processes and accountability structures of government and other stakeholders is needed to sustain reform.
· Reform cannot take place across the board all at once. Given limited capacity, it is important to concentrate reforms efforts in certain areas. Particular attention should be given to producing key documents such as the pre-budget report.
Discussion with Audience
Points discussed during questions from the audience included:
· The role of the media in public accountabilityand particularly in helping to inform oversight institutions is important. It was acknowledged that improving media capability to increasing information flows between citizens, civil organisations and media actors was an area in which more reform efforts should be focussed. Particular attention should be paid to information campaigns at the local government level, as it is here that they can be most effective. However, it was pointed out by Warren Krafchik that the print media’s focus is conventionally too broad to closely scrutinize budget processes and that the involvement of other media organisations and methods of communication might be more effective.
· Budget reform should be an inclusive process. A multi-stakeholder approach which integrates governments, civil organisations, regional blocs and donors is likely to be most effective. Successful reform is conditional on understanding the relationships between these actors. Moreover, it should be remembered that domestic governments are partners in reform. In order for citizens to become more involved in budget reform processes, it is essential that they can engage in forums in which they can access information and engage the public sphere.
· The role of aid transparency in the budget reform: Donors should be wary to introduce conditionality into the reform process is this introduces perverse incentives among domestic government to misreport. However, it was noted that donors do not demand enough information needed for effective General Budgetary Support. Simply requiring more information from recipient governments in this regard is preferable to conditionality.
· It was noted that budget transparency reforms are not always desirable. For example requirements for greater transparency and oversight might be beyond the capacity of some governments and may detract resources from other essential government functions.
· The effectiveness of national laws in improving budget transparency:Institutional reforms regarding budget transparency should be reflected in the constitution in order to make them more effective/sustainable. In regard to freedom of information laws, it was noted that civil organisation prefers to use informal methods to gain access to budget information. Formally appealing to laws is generally seen by civil organisations to be overly antagonistic.
· There is a greater need to examine sub-national expenditure and revenue in the survey. But it should be noted that revenue transparency at the national and local levels is not necessarily reflected in transparency in the expenditure side. This is illustrated in a comparison with revenue transparency indices with the OBS.
The IBP’s just published Open Budget Survey 2010 is a comprehensive analysis and survey that evaluates whether central governments in 94 countries give the public access to budget information and opportunities to participate in the budget process. The Survey also examines the ability of legislatures and auditors to hold the government accountable.
The Open Budget Survey is the only independent, comparative, and regular measure of budget transparency and accountability around the world. It is implemented by budget experts who are not beholden to any national government and rigorously vetted to produce a substantial and reliable dataset available on the current state of budget transparency. The 2010 Survey is the third round of the Survey; the first implementation of the Survey in 2006 covered 59 countries, and in 2008 the Survey evaluated 85 countries.
The panel will present and discuss findings from this years Open Budget Survey.