SA placed 2nd in world for transparent budget

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pretoria - South Africa is the second best country in the world in terms of how open and transparent government is when it comes to collecting and spending public funds.

Second only to the United Kingdom, South Africa has been placed second on the international Open Budget Index, a barometer designed to measure public spending transparency.

Russel Wildeman, Head of the Economic Governance Programme at the Democracy Institute of South Africa (Idasa) said the findings of the Open Budget Index demonstrated that government was open and accountable about its budget decisions.

"The South African public can be confident that the government's budget decisions are out in the open," said Mr Wildeman, adding that this demonstrated a degree of willingness by government to be accountable to the people.

The announcement on Thursday came a day after Finance Minister Trevor Manuel tabled his 2009 Budget in Parliament.

"A high score on the Open Budget Index means that the public has healthy access to extensive information to help them to hold the government to account. Most importantly, it enables citizens to actively participate in the decision-making process surrounding the nation's spending," Wildeman said.

According to Idasa, the Open Budget Index is a comprehensive survey of 85 countries that evaluates whether governments give the public access to sufficient reliable budget information and opportunities to participate in the budget process and hold their governments accountable.

Directed by the International Budget Partnership based in Washington, the survey is conducted by independent civil society organisations in the participating countries.

Idasa is the Index's partner in South Africa.

South Africa scored 87 out of a possible 100 points on the Open Budget Index, which is based on responses to a set of survey questions and assesses eight key budget documents that international good practice requires all governments to publish.

Only the United Kingdom gained a higher score (88), while France also scored 87.

"Transparency in budget decision-making means citizens have access to information about how much revenue is collected and how it is allocated to different types of spending.

"Providing the public with comprehensive and timely information on the government's budget and financial activities empowers people and allows them to judge how their government is managing public funds.

"It also creates opportunities for citizens to participate in decision making, which can strengthen oversight and improve policy choices," Mr Wildeman said.

He warned that governments that restrict access to budget information could be hiding unpopular, wasteful and corrupt spending.

A low score on the Open Budget Index suggest decisions about public spending are made behind closed doors, which excludes meaningful participation by citizens and ultimately could reduce the resources allocated to redistribution and addressing poverty.

Only five countries of the 85 surveyed, namely France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States and South Africa, make extensive information publicly available as required by generally accepted good public financial management practices.

The International Budget Partnership described the state of budget transparency around the world as "deplorable" when it released the findings of the latest Index at the end of last year.

The Open Budget Index found the average score for the survey was 39 out of a possible 100.

This indicates that, on average, countries surveyed provide minimal information on their central government's budget and financial activities.

Twenty-five countries surveyed provide little or no budget information. These include low-income countries like Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nicaragua and the Kyrgyz Republic, as well as several middle- and high-income countries, such as China, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.

The least transparent countries are mostly located in the Middle East and North Africa (with an average score of 24 out of 100), and in sub-Saharan Africa (average score of 25).

The worst performers tend to be low-income countries that often depend heavily on revenues from foreign aid or oil and gas exports and that have weak democratic institutions or are governed by autocratic regimes.

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