BEYOND THE NUMBERS
IBP’s Warren Krafchik Headlines Global Conference on Budget Transparency
“Whether you are a farmer in Mexico, a student in Nigeria or an IMF [International Monetary Fund] official, openness about government expenditure matters,” notes The Economist on last week’s London meeting of more than 1,000 delegates from more than 60 countries on ways to make governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens.
Promoting budget transparency is a key priority for the International Budget Partnership (IBP), an organization formed within the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that works with civil society to improve governance and budget systems and reduce poverty worldwide. Addressing the London meeting, the second annual summit of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), IBP director Warren Krafchik explained:
I started working on budget transparency in South Africa as the African National Congress government replaced the apartheid government. I remember clearly a day early in the transition when the new parliamentary finance committee used the new constitution to ask the Department of State Expenditure to report on its progress in developing the next year’s budget. In response to the request, long-time members of the Department reluctantly appeared before the committee and a packed house of journalists and CSOs (civil society organizations).
Before speaking, the officials asked the chair to clear the room of journalists because they had extremely sensitive information to share. The chair agreed. And what was the extremely sensitive information? Only that national departments had asked for twice the funds available to the Treasury. That was hardly unusual, but it was much more than South Africa’s government was used to revealing.
A good discussion ensued, until someone realized that the chair had forgotten to turn off the microphone to the media room. The next day, all major newspapers led with headlines that departments had requested twice the funds available to the Treasury.
What happened next? Nothing. The new government didn’t fall and markets didn’t crash. The South African transition advanced, with a debate that was more robust, with more access to facts. Citizens understood the information, the media reported more on budget issues, business incorporated the news into their projections, and government negotiations continued with a bit more pressure on civil servants to be realistic. Over time, the Department of State Expenditure worked with others in and out of government to help South Africa become a global leader in budget transparency.
As this story shows, opening government is a roller-coaster ride. But, the payoffs are immeasurable.
OGP’s growth shows that the message of more open, responsive government resonates strongly not only in South Africa, but all over the world. In just two years, we have achieved a remarkable amount:
61 countries, and over 1,000 commitments, are impressive headlines. The stories on the ground are even more compelling.
- In Mexico and the U.K., co-creation replaced consultation as civil society rejected the first OGP national action plan and, together with government, reimagined the process for developing and monitoring the plan.
- Tanzania, Liberia, Kenya, Jordan, Hungary, Ghana and Croatia are all working to develop Citizens Budgets to enable citizens to participate in the traditionally closed budgeting system.
- The Philippines is implementing the “good housekeeping program” – a performance based grant system to reward government units that meet standards of performance. Citizens and CSOs participate in the scheme by joining validation teams.
We’re making good progress, but not in all countries – and even countries at the leading edge can do better.
We can’t assume success. There is no invisible hand of accountability to ensure it. Government openness is fiercely contested, between those who favor openness and those who benefit from closed government. The role of OGP is to tip the balance of power in favor of openness. . . .