WASHINGTON (IPS/GIN) – 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 report recently released by the International Budget Partnership.
The partnership is a Washington-based project that works with civil society groups to promote government transparency and improve accountability.
Of the 85 countries surveyed by the group, 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, participate and monitor the use of public funds, according to the “Open Budget Index” designed by International Budget Partnership 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, 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 said. “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, titled “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 International Budget Partnership 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.