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Forum: Many countries still lack a fully transparent budget process

Author(s):
International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
February 2005
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How open are governments about their budgets? This question was at the core of a survey of 36 developing and transitional countries designed by The International Budget Project (IBP), a nonprofit group working with civil society organizations, to evaluate public access to accurate, comprehensive, and timely budget information. Overall, the report found that most countries freely provide information on the government’s budget proposal but have a much harder time when it comes to providing access to monitoring reports and involving the public or legislatures in the budget process.

“Civil society is very keen to get access to budget documents so it can evaluate the government’s policy intentions, its policy priorities, and their implementation,” said IBP analyst and the study’s lead author Pamela Gomez during a recent presentation to IMF staff. “Public access to budget documents is essential to ensure that governments are financially accountable.”

In the three categories measured, most countries (26) fared best in the first category, which examined the information the executive branch made available in its budget proposal to the legislature. The countries scoring negatively in this category usually do not provide multiyear budgets and/or comprehensive information such as government assets, tax expenditures, and extra-budget funds.

Limited transparency

Countries typically freely make their budget proposals available to the public but provide little additional budget information.

Number of countriesPercent of total
Pre-budget statement1953
Executive budget proposal3597
Citizens budget617
In-year monitoring reports2775
Mid-year review1746
Year-end evaluation reports2981
Audit reports2467
Data: International Budget Project.Note: The 36 countries surveyed were Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Georgia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, Mongolia, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia.
Data: International Budget Project.Note: The 36 countries surveyed were Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Georgia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, Mongolia, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia.

In the second category, which examined the information provided in monitoring reports, few countries (12) fared well, according to the IBP report. Many countries fail to provide midyear reviews to assess budget implementation, and either provided incomplete information or no year-end report at all. This raised serious concerns because a year-end report should serve as the government’s key accountability document, according to the IBP.

But the weakest aspect of the budget process in most countries surveyed (28) concerns the executive’s failure to facilitate public understanding and discourse on the budget. Most executives fail to provide adequate and transparent information, and official avenues for legislative and public input in the budget process tend to be lacking. For example, only five countries provide significant information about the distribution of tax burdens, essential to an informed debate on how existing and proposed revenue policies affect various income groups, and only six countries produce a “citizens budget,” the nontechnical presentation of the budget designed for a broad audience.

The IBP questionnaire, which was completed by nongovernment researchers in the surveyed countries, primarily regarded the content and timeliness of public budget documents, based on international good and best practice guidelines, and did not go into the quality of budget information. The IBP, which is part of the Washington-based nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, plans to expand the initiative to 60 countries.

For more information, please refer to www.internationalbudget.org.

Laura Wallace

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