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January 22, 2015

The OBS Tracker: A new Tool for Continuous Monitoring of Budget Transparency

Transparency (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Paolo de Renzio1

Based on international standards like the recently updated IMF Code of Good Practices on Fiscal Transparency, the Open Budget Survey (OBS) – carried out every two years by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) – has been providing independent and comparable data and analysis on the transparency of government budgets since 2006. Now covering over 100 countries, the OBS – and its resulting Open Budget Index – has come to be seen as an important reference for assessing the public availability and comprehensiveness of budget documents that governments produce and publish.

The Survey is based on a thorough process that takes up to 18 months to complete, and that relies on local researchers and independent peer reviews, including from the governments being assessed. Many have noted how the two-year gap between surveys does not allow for a continuous monitoring of budget transparency, and for civil society actors to keep up the pressure on governments to open up their budgets to public scrutiny. As a consequence, IBP has recently launched a new tool – the OBS Tracker – which aims to fill this gap by providing monthly updates on the publication of key budget documents by the 30 governments that are part of its pilot phase.

The OBS Tracker uses the budget calendars of the countries it covers to highlight when key budget documents are due to be made publicly available, allowing citizens, civil society organizations, journalists, and other stakeholders to check on a monthly basis whether their government is complying with transparency requirements. For example, the OBS Tracker reports that the government of Côte d’Ivoire did not publish its 2014 Mid-Year Review, despite producing it for internal use. The Tracker identifies July through to September 2015 as the period for the government to move on this. Those interested in improving budget transparency can intensify their efforts in the lead up to this period to get the government to publish the document.

It is important to note that the OBS Tracker provides only information on whether a government has or has not made the key budget documents available to the public; it does not provide an assessment of the amount of detail or comprehensiveness of the information in those documents. The Open Budget Survey will still be the main source for that information. In this sense, the OBS Tracker complements the Survey by allowing continuous monitoring and timely updates, so that governments that are opening their budgets to public scrutiny will get the immediate recognition they deserve, and those that limit information, or restrict it further, will not be allowed to escape notice.

Initial results from the OBS Tracker reveal that of the potential 240 documents that should be published by the 30 countries covered, 88 are not, including 33 documents that the governments are producing, but for internal use only. Further, almost one in four of the countries do not publish their Executive's Budget Proposals – arguably the most important budget document because it enables citizens to discuss and influence budget plans before they are finalized. And, almost half do not publish Audit Reports, though these provide indispensable checks on the accuracy of a government's accounts and on the government's compliance with existing laws and regulations.

The OBS Tracker website provides a snapshot picture of the situation in each country with regard to the 8 key budget documents that all governments should publish, details about each country’s budget calendar with updates since the last Open Budget Survey, and a library of all of the budget documents that form the basis of the research and analysis that can be accessed by anyone.

The pilot phase of the OBS Tracker project will continue until July 2015, when a decision will be taken on whether to continue it and include additional countries. IBP encourages all stakeholders to make full use of this new tool and welcomes comments and suggestions on how to improve it.

1Senior Research Fellow, International Budget Partnership

2The International Budget Partnership (IBP) collaborates with civil society around the world to use budget analysis and advocacy as a tool to improve effective governance and reduce poverty. IBP receives funding from a range of donors including the Ford Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Omidyar, the UK Department for International Development, and Sida.

Note: The posts on the IMF PFM Blog should not be reported as representing the views of the IMF. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the IMF or IMF policy.

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