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Sierra Leone News: Africa declines in budget transparency

After 10 years of documenting steady progress of availability of budget information, new data shows that budget transparency dropped most dramatically in sub-Saharan Africa where its scores fell by 11 points between 2015 and 2017.
“The declines in budget transparency are worrisome against a global backdrop of rising inequality, restrictions on media and civic freedom, and a weakening of trust between citizens and governments,” said Warren Krafchik, Executive Director of International Budget Partnership (IBP).
According to the recent statistics of the Open Budget Survey 2017 (OBS), other regions experienced small increases or declines in their scores, with the exception of Asia, where the average score rose more substantially.
“Transparency scores in this round of the survey show that any government, irrespective of region or culture, can become more transparent,” said Krafchik. “The vast majority of countries in the world could quickly improve transparency by making documents they already produce publicly available. Most countries that produce document that thaye are not publishing on their official websites already publish other documents online, so they could easily do so for all documents.”
Launched in 2006, the OBS deals with comparative assessment of the three pillars of public budget accountability, which are transparency, oversight and public participation.
The sixth round of its biennial assessment evaluated 115 countries across six continents, adding 13 new countries to the survey since the last round in 2015.
The OBS also reveals that most countries fail to provide meaningful opportunities for the public to participate in the budget process, on how they generate and spend funds.
Not a single country out of the 115 surveyed offered participation opportunities that are considered adequate. The average score is just 12 out of 100 with 111 countries having weak scores.
Sierra Leone scored 6 on the opportunities the government provides for public participation in budget processes.
“Without opportunities for citizens active participation, particularly from marginalized groups budget systems will only serve the interests of powerful elites,” said Budget Advocacy Network Coordinator Abu BakarrKamara.
To assess transparency and participation, the OBS also evaluated the role of formal oversight institutions. They found out that only 32 countries legislatures have adequate oversight practices, 47 countries have limited and 36 countries have weak oversight.
In comparison, 75 out of the 115 countries meet the basic conditions for supreme audit institutions to provide adequate oversight. “Well-funded and independent oversight institutions are critical to better budget planning and implementation” said Kamara.
He went on to say that to strengthen the country’s formal oversight institutions, the score for the legislature was 28 for formulation and approval and 26 for execution/audit and the score for SAI is 72.
“These could be improved if the legislature holds a debate on budget policy prior to the tabling of the Executive’s Budget Proposal, ensure a legislative committee examines and publishes reports on in-year budget implementation online and consider setting up an independent fiscal institution to further strengthen budget oversight,” said Kamara.
The OBS states that the number of publicly available budget documents decreased in this round of the survey compared to 2015, published document it says contains slightly more information now than they did in the previous years.
By Zainab Iyamdie Joaque
Thursday February 01, 2018.

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