BY MADUABUCHI EFEGADI
The Covid-19 pandemic, which hit the global economy ‘below the belt’, with the latter losing $12.5 trillion says IMF revised forecast, did not however, undo accountable budgeting practices worldwide, according to a new survey by the International Budget Partnership (IBP), which it unveiled in its latest open budget survey (OBS) for 120 countries.
Most countries preserved accountable spending practices in their annual budget processes during the pandemic, the survey found out.
With South Korea spearheading inclusive practices for public consultation in the budget process, Nigeria, Benin, and the Gambia surprised financial bookmakers by being “among the biggest improvers in this round of the survey.”
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Equally, the Dominican Republic, a poor Caribbean nation of more than 10 million people, of which 40.4 percent live in poverty, and 10.4 percent in extreme poverty, entered the top 10 performers who are leading the way in advancing and institutionalising transparency.
Anjali Garg, head of the IBP Open Budget Survey, said: “Accountability systems are still weak overall, but several countries are showing that where there is political will, progress is possible.
Garg noted that open budget practices are a winning proposition – they build public trust that governments can deliver, and can lead to lower borrowing costs at a time when global debt and inequality is at an all-time high. “We hope more countries will be emboldened to open up their budget process to public consultation and scrutiny to ensure scarce resources reach those who need them most,” he added.
According to IBP, somewhat surprisingly, the pandemic did not undo hard-fought gains in transparent and accountable budgeting practices worldwide. Most countries were able to maintain, and in some cases build on earlier gains in their annual budget processes, thanks to increased digitization of information and the institutionalisation of accountability practices.
The budget transparency survey firm noted that the average transparency score has increased more than 20 percent since 2008, with Eastern Europe, Central Asia, East Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and sub-Saharan Africa making significant strides in transparency since 2008.
“Sub-Saharan Africa has had the steepest improvement in budget transparency,” the OBS indicated.
However, the survey found that legislative oversight has declined due to political unrest, the pandemic and executive overreach. Some executive governments have found ways to undermine supreme audit institutions while staying within the boundaries of the law. Less than a third of countries provide sufficiently detailed information to understand how their budget addresses poverty and only 14 percent present their expenditures by gender. Only eight countries worldwide have formal channels to engage underserved communities in budget processes.
“We need an all-hand on deck approach so that everyone has a say in how and how much public money is collected, borrowed and spent. Reform-minded countries, and donors, must invest in fiscal accountability systems that empower key government agencies, legislators, national auditors, civil society groups and the public to ensure public funds are managed effectively and equitably,” said Vivek Ramkumar, senior director of policy for IBP.
Austin Ndiokwelu, Nigeria country manager for IBP, commenting on the country’s somewhat surprise entry into the global budget transparency and accountability club, said: “We are heartened to see the progress that Nigeria and other countries have made in the survey. Inclusion pays dividends. We urge governments to sustain progress and engage communities more meaningfully around their revenue and spending priorities. Community feedback can help governments better manage vital public resources.”
The Open Budget is the world’s only comparative, independent and regular assessment of transparency, oversight and public participation in public budgets in 120 countries.