G20 commitments a no-show on fiscal transparency

This week, the G20, under Mexico’s presidency, missed an opportunity to promote transparency about the way public resources are raised and spent, and the results that they achieve (fiscal transparency). Fiscal transparency, and budget transparency in particular, is incredibly important in the fight against poverty.

Budgets are the way a country prioritizes programs and allocates money to achieve them. It’s traditionally a complex and closed process, with little transparency or opportunities for citizen participation. Budgets should reflect the needs of citizens, and increased budget transparency allows for citizens and civil society organizations in developing countries to hold their governments accountable for how money is being spent. And when citizens participate, it is more likely that that money is going to help those most in need.

Organizations around the world have used budget information to uncover corruption or misdirection of funds, and in one case, to increased government funding for a necessary national HIV/AIDS program.

-The National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights used India’s Freedom of Information (FOI) law and litigation to gain spending information. They discovered that $150 million intended for programs for the poor and marginalized had been diverted to fund the 2010 Commonwealth Games. So far, 75 percent of the funds have now been directed to their intended programs.

-CSO Fundar utilized Mexico’s Freedom of Information law to show that the largest 10 percent of farms were receiving more than 50 percent of a $20 billion agricultural subsidy program. After these findings were made public, the government took steps to ensure that subsidies were directed to small, poorer farmers.

-When the South African government refused to fund a national HIV/AIDS treatment program arguing that it was too expensive, the Treatment Action Campaign used publicly available budget information to demonstrate that investing public funds to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV would save the government money by reducing future HIV infections and associated costs. Combined with litigation and a subsequent campaign for antiretroviral coverage, the South African cabinet endorsed an HIV/AIDS plan in 2007. As of 2010, 1.4 million South Africans are on antiretrovirals, and South Africa is covering three-quarters of AIDS expenditures domestically.

Because of the successes of these organizations and many others, it’s important that budget transparency stays on the radar. We hope that the G20 and countries maintain a focus on improving transparency so that citizens around the world can better hold their leaders to account and improve their own development. We’re disappointed that the G20 was a no-show on transparency this time around, but we hope their promise to keep working on the issue means we’ll see real progress in the months ahead.