Amid declining public trust in government and increasing inequality around the world, a major independent global report finds that the government of Afghanistan has increased the amount of budget information it makes available to the public but reveals that overall country systems for ensuring budget accountability around the world are deficient
Kabul, Afghanistan, February 11, 2018 – Integrity Watch launched the Open Budget Survey 2017 of Afghanistan with the presence of Ministry of Finance, Supreme Audit Office and Budget Commission of the Lower House as well as civil society, academia and the press at the Government Media and Information Center. While many governments around the world are making less information available about how they raise and spend public money, but Afghanistan is among those that increased transparency around their national budget over the last two years, according to the results of the Open Budget Survey 2017 (OBS), conducted by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) and Integrity Watch Afghanistan.
After 10 years of documenting steady progress in increasing the availability of budget information, IBP says the OBS 2017 showed a modest decline in average global budget transparency scores, from 45 in 2015 to 43 in 2017 for the 102 countries that were surveyed in both rounds (scores are out of a possible 100). This is in stark contrast to the average increase of roughly two points documented among comparable countries in each round of the OBS between 2008 and 2015. The reversal of transparency gains is particularly discouraging given that roughly three-quarters of the countries assessed do not publish sufficient budget information (a score of 61 or higher).
Warren Krafchik, executive director of IBP, said, “The declines in budget transparency are worrisome against a global backdrop of rising inequality, restrictions on media and civic freedom, and a weakening of trust between citizens and their governments.”
Launched in 2006, the OBS is the world’s only independent, comparative assessment of the three pillars of public budget accountability: transparency, oversight and public participation. The sixth round of this biennial assessment, the 2017 survey evaluated 115 countries across six continents, adding 13 new countries to the survey since the last round in 2015.
Afghanistan has been in the OBS since 2008, and the 2017 survey finds that it has improved in terms of its ranking on the Open Budget Index, or OBI, which uses internationally recognized criteria to give each country a transparency score on a 100-point scale. Afghanistan OBI score increased from 42 in 2015 to 49 in 2017, making it easier for citizens to get information about what is being done with public money and to hold the government to account.
“The improvement in Afghanistan score is due to production and timely publication of mid-year reviews. This is an important document for public and we welcome it,” said Sayed Ikram Afzali, Executive Director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, which conducted the research for Afghanistan. “However, Afghanistan backtracked on timely publication of in-year reports.”
Overall, declines in budget transparency were most dramatic in sub-Saharan Africa, where the average budget transparency scores fell by 11 points between 2015 and 2017. Other regions experienced small increases or small declines in their scores, with the exception of Asia, where the average score rose more substantially. A number of countries have experienced significant gains in transparency since they were first included in the survey, including Georgia, Jordan, Mexico and Senegal.
The OBS 2017 also revealed that most countries fail to provide meaningful opportunities for the public to participate in the budget process — both to inform decisions about how government raises and allocates funds and to hold government accountable for implementing those decisions. Not a single country out of the 115 surveyed offered participation opportunities that are considered adequate (a score of 61 or higher). The average global score is just 12 out of 100, with 111 countries having weak scores (lower than 41). [Country] scored [X] on the opportunities the government provides for public participation in budget processes. Without opportunities for citizens’ active participation — particularly citizens from marginalized or vulnerable groups — budget systems may only serve the interests of powerful elites.
In addition to assessing transparency and participation, the OBS also evaluated the role of formal oversight institutions, such as supreme audit institutions and legislatures. The survey found that only 32 countries’ legislatures (28 percent) have adequate oversight practices, 47 countries (41 percent) have limited oversight practices, and 36 countries (31 percent) have weak oversight practices. In comparison, the OBS finds that in 75 out of 115 countries (65 percent) the basic conditions for SAIs to provide adequate oversight are in place. Well-funded and independent oversight institutions are critical to better budget planning and implementation.
With regard to the strength of Afghanistan formal oversight institutions, the score for the legislature was 47 for oversight in the process of execution and only 19 in the formulation process and the score for the supreme audit institution was 67. The major reason behind the low score for the parliament is lack of public participation. The parliament could improve its score in the formulation process if it systematically engages the public in the process.
While Afghanistan has taken steps to improve, this progress must continue. “The government has done much to lay the foundation for a truly open budget,” said Afzali. “Next steps toward such a system should be creating mechanisms for publication participation in the budget process such as participatory budgeting, provincial budgeting and social audit.”
The news is not all bad this round. There have been several advances toward more open budgets. While the number of publicly available budget documents decreased in this round of the survey compared to 2015, published documents contain slightly more information now than they did in previous years. Though overall global transparency has declined from 2015, the level of transparency in 2017 remains above where it was a decade ago.
“Transparency scores in this round of the survey show that any government, irrespective of region or culture, can become more transparent,” said Krafchik. “The vast majority of countries in the world could quickly improve transparency by making documents they already produce publicly available. Most countries that produce documents that they are not publishing on their official websites already publish other documents online, so they could easily do so for all documents.”
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