The International Budget Partnership’s (IBP) 2012 Open Budget Survey shows that the global average Open Budget Index (OBI) has improved from 41 to 46 between 2008 and 2012. If, for the same period, we look at the OBI for 18 countries that the OECD classifies as ‘fragile’, we see an improvement from 25 to 36. A closer look suggests however that these improvements are erratic and prone to stagnation and backslide. Support to local champions of transparency and accountability is required to consolidate these gains and help them past the minimum level of transparency, where many countries stagnate. Without such support to emergent accountability actors, budget transparency reforms in fragile countries are unlikely to progress past a basic level.
The state of budget transparency in fragile countries
The table below summarizes OBI scores for 18 fragile countries from 2008 to 2012 and provides an average OBI score for each of the three years measured. Surprisingly, fragile states are improving faster than their non-fragile brothers and sisters. Granted, such averages hide huge amounts of variation, such as the rapid improvement of Angola from 4 to 28 and the spectacular decline of Niger from 26 to 4. However, even if one removes the most rapid improvers like Afghanistan and Liberia from the average, fragile countries still out-improve the non-fragile.
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||44||44||50|
|Average OBI for 18 Fragile states||25||31||36|
Despite these encouraging and surprising signals, we should guard against blind optimism. Yes, fragile countries seem to be improving more rapidly than other countries, but these improvements all come from a very low base and are generally the result of governments publishing documents that they were already producing. Further improvements may require bigger investments of political capital and greater development of data capability. As a result of these political and technical thresholds, many fragile countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Georgia and Nepal have stagnated at relatively low levels of transparency. The big question is how to continue to get good progress from fragile countries that have started to improve.
What drives budget transparency in fragile environments?
Exploratory research commissioned by the IBP indicates that elections and party political competition play a key role in driving transparency reforms. Fragile countries have however earned their status from the very absence of these democratic processes and in some cases the absence of processes of state altogether. Indeed, IBP case studies on budget transparency in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Afghanistan confirm that foreign donors and externally funded consultants in finance ministries are central to budget transparency reforms in fragile countries.
In a recent post on the Open Budgets Blog, we reviewed the relevant literature and confirmed that budget reforms such as improvements in transparency are unlikely to take root on their own. Does this mean these efforts at external grafting of budget transparency are ultimately doomed to failure?
The IBP case studies also show that there are segments of the bureaucracy and civil society that see the advantages of budget transparency and have taken ownership of it. In the Afghanistan case study, Nematullah Bizhan writes that the post-2001 government acted on a strong incentive to use the budget to gain public trust and build confidence in the country. He also describes how an emerging class of young Afghan professionals, particularly in the budget department, contributed significantly to ensuring that the ministry was moving in the right direction. The efforts of these insiders were consistently supported by Integrity Watch Afghanistan, the local OBI partner, and the fledgling but enthusiastic local media and legislature. In the DRC case study Jean-Pierre Samolia and Claire Schouten write that REGED, a local network of 310 CSOs representing all provinces, pooled their efforts to persistently engage with government and keep budget transparency and financial management reforms moving.
To be sure, these internal drivers of budget transparency are relatively weak and often in a small minority. They do however provide a starting point for building the accountability infrastructure needed to sustain technical reforms. With the necessary support, they may provide the points of departure needed to embed budget transparency in the democratic processes that ultimately make them sustainable.