Tuesday, 19 October 2010

South Africa tops Open Budget Index

I wrote recently about how the one of the differences between poverty in Low-Income Countries (LICs) and poverty in Middle-Income Countries (MICs) is that in the latter governments have the resources to address the situation, if only accountability can be forced and governments made to spend in a pro-poor manner. A prime example being South Africa, a MIC with a growing economy and the largest rich-poor gap in the world.

One of the keys to being able to force the required accountability and lobby for pro-poor spending is access to budget information. It is infinitely more difficult to argue for more effective spending if you have no real information about what the government is spending tax money on to begin with. International Budget Partnership's Open Budget Initiative aims to measure and track how much information governments provides to citizens on public spending. This year's Open Budget Index has just been released and the results have South Africa as the top-performing country:

South Africa’s OBI 2010 score is 92 out of 100, which is the highest score of the 94 countries surveyed. South Africa’s score indicates that the government provides the public with extensive information on the central government’s budget and financial activities assessed by the survey. This makes it possible for citizens to hold the government accountable for its management of the public’s money.
Other countries classed as providing 'extensive information' were New Zealand, the UK, France, Norway, Sweden and the USA, all falling slightly short of South Africa's. The survey found that 74 of the 94 countries assessed fail to meet basic standards of accountability and transparency with national budgets, while 40 countries release no meaningful budget information at all. Scores for other Southern African countries ranged from 6 (DRC) to 53 (Namibia).

The practical implications? South Africans have access to all the information they need, at least in terms of how money is allocated nationally. So, while this doesn't solve service delivery problems, it does mean South Africans start from a uniquely informed position to lobby government about how their money is spent.

Bonus feature: Another fun and interesting map (although interactive features appear not to be functional)

h/t: Owen Barder (via twitter)
Research for the SA portion of the Index by IDASA

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