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Friday, November 05, 2010

Australia missing from survey of budget transparency

I had not heard of the International Budget Partnership until I came across references online to the Open Budget Survey 2010. IBP works with civil society and other groups "to make budget systems more transparent and accountable to the public." They believe that "the public has a right to comprehensive, timely, and useful information on how the government manages public funds." Their experience shows "that when ordinary people have information, skills, and opportunities to participate, broader public engagement in government budget processes can promote substantive improvements in governance and poverty.
So to the Report on the 2010 survey of 94 countries, 74 of which fail to meet basic standards of transparency and accountability in their national budgets: not a word about us. While developing countries are the main focus, and South Africa received the highest score, developed countries we would compare with such as New Zealand (2nd), United Kingdom (3rd), France (4th), Norway (5th) Sweden (6th), the United States (7th), Germany(12th) all feature in the top two categories.

There is no link to any Australian group, think tank or academic centre that looks at these issues. Surely not a true indication of interest and expertise? A volunteer before 2012? (In NZ it's Transparency International.)

I'm sure we would come out of such an assessment fairly well, but it's a reminder that the Federal Government's budget initiative Operation Sunlight may still have a way to go and that some who look closely at these things find major flaws in transparency claims for example concerning the Defence budget.

Those in Canberra who manage Australia's aid should find plenty of material of interest in the report and its recommendations.Countries in our region that receive significant Australian aid and are in the third of five categories (Some information but fail to meet the basic standard) include Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. Malaysia, Pakistan, Timor-Leste and Afghanistan ( a significant improver since 2008) are in category four, Minimal. Cambodia, Vietnam, China are in Scant. Fiji (not on our books these days) is in the small No information group.

Here is just one aspect of transparency covered in the Report:
In 68 of the 94 countries surveyed, legislatures do not organize any public hearings at which the public is given an opportunity to testify on the budgets of individual ministries.(Come to think of it, neither do we.) Further, in 35 countries included in the Survey, all legislative budget discussions involving the executive are closed meetings; the public is excluded altogether from observing these meetings, even if they are committee hearings, and no public record of the meetings is provided. In 36 countries, only a few such discussions are open to the public.

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