The budget is the single most important policy document governments publish. It sets out priorities and should enable citizens to see where and how public resources are spent. Budget transparency is at the heart of transparent and accountable financing for development and the effective governance of public resources. When citizens do not have sufficient information about how their government prioritizes and spends public resources, they cannot help to set those priorities or hold their governments accountable for the effective use of public resources.
Unfortunately, few developing country governments publish sufficient budget information to allow their citizens to understand and engage with their country’s budget. Budget transparency can help to ensure that spending priorities are in line with the needs of the people and create strong, inclusive economies.
A number of new and exciting initiatives are working to improve budget transparency around the world, providing more information to citizens and creating a consensus on the importance of budget transparency. The Global Initiative on Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) brings together representatives from governments, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and leading civil society organizations to kick-start a global process to improve transparency, engagement and accountability around budget processes. To drive progress on budget transparency, GIFT is developing global norms and sharing experience about how to implement them effectively at the country level. ONE is calling for all G8 and G20 members to participate in GIFT and make their budgets public, as well as to commit to increase support for fiscal transparency reforms in developing countries.
Civil society organizations are also putting their energies behind the move to greater budget transparency. In November 2011 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, nearly 100 civil society groups from 56 countries and 12 international organizations, including the International Budget Partnership, Greenpeace, and ONE, launched a global effort to make public budgets transparent, participatory, and accountable. The Global Movement for Budget Transparency, Accountability and Participation centers on building an integrated and vibrant group of organizations that will work at the local, national, and international level to promote open and accountable budgets. This movement builds on the work of the International Budget Partnership, its work with civil society organizations in many countries across the world, and the Open Budget Survey, an independent, comparative, regular measure of budget transparency and accountability.
In some developing countries, budget information is inaccessible, fragmented or entirely unavailable. However, the capacity of civil society in developing countries to analyze and disseminate digestible budget information is growing. The Malawi Economic Justice Network has taken an active role in creating citizens’ budgets. The Nigerian organization BudgIT has taken to Twitter to provide Nigerians visual budgetary information through info-graphics. With an increasing understanding of the value of budget transparency, more and more governments are interested in publishing their budget information.