The Washington-based International Budget Partnership has placed South Africa in second place in its Open Budget Index, with a score of 90 points out of a possible 100. In the last edition of the Index in 2010, South Africa achieved top honours.
The internationally recognised Index this year analysed 100 countries worldwide and South Africa came second after New Zealand. South Africa is one of only six countries in the world, which releases extensive budget information to its legislatures and the public in general. The remaining top five places are occupied by the United Kingdom (3rd place), Sweden (4th place) and Norway (5th place).
The African democracy institute Idasa works in partnership with the International Budget Partnership on the Open Budget Index, which is the only independent, comparative, regular measure of budget transparency and accountability around the world, produced by independent experts not beholden to national governments.
One of the leading international tools for advocates of budget transparency, the Open Budget Index was started by the International Budget Partnership in 2006. It is conducted every two years to measure how well governments around the world ensure budget information is publicly available, thereby encouraging citizen participation in the national budget process.
“South Africa continues to do well because of the strong foundation provided by the National Treasury, the government’s determination to continue with their budget reform programmes and a realisation that open budgets are a necessary condition for our vibrant democracy”’ said Russell Wildeman, the Lead Researcher on this project.
However, what is noticeable is the fact that South Africa has been dethroned as the country with the most open and transparent budgets. Wildeman noted that the primary researchers and the external reviewers took a hard look at key aspects of our public finance management system, which include concerns raised about the quality of our non-financial information, the consistency with which the Auditor-General’s recommendations are addressed, our country’s ability to present a comprehensive account of challenges to our financial position, and expanding the information available to citizens through the Citizen’s Budget.
“It will be unfortunate if people view the 2012 results in a negative light because South Africa is a world leader in budget transparency and openness. However, the budget reform process and government departments must address the weaknesses identified by the survey. In this regard, the introduction of the financial capability programme for departments is an excellent step forward and demonstrates the seriousness with which the government views public finance reforms,” said Wildeman.
One area where South Africa has significant room for improvement is in the public’s overall participation in the budget process. Thembinkosi Dlamini, one of the researchers on the survey noted that poor levels of public participation should not necessarily be attributed to actions taken by the government.
“It is a well-known fact that the pace of budget reform in the 1990s and continuing into the 2000s has outstripped the ability of ordinary citizens and citizen groups to make a meaningful input into the budget and budget processes,”Dlamini argued. He argues that civil society organisations should be encouraged to continue building the capacity of citizens to meaningfully engage with the national, provincial and local government budgets.
The Open Budget Index, now in its fourth edition, bemoans the general lack of budget transparency globally and regards the situation as “dismal”, further notes that gradual changes are taking place, but the pace at which this happens means that only the next generation of citizens are likely to reap the full benefits of open budgets and budget processes.