In the wake of the Panama Papers, which exposed the illicit finance industry, the United Kingdom hosted the first-ever Anti-Corruption Summit on May 12. The Summit brought together world leaders to discuss how to tackle corruption by strengthening such measures as transparency, recovery of assets, and law enforcement cooperation.
As the dust settles from the summit, we reflect on what came of the discussions. And importantly, what happens next in terms of open budgets?
What Was Agreed?
More than 40 governments and various organizations attended the summit and signed on to an Anti-Corruption Communiqué. There is plenty to endorse in the statement, including “government budgets should be fair, accountable, open and transparent to prevent and expose the theft or misuse of taxpayers’ money” and the signatories’ pledge to “work to strengthen fiscal transparency, including by ensuring legislative oversight of budget processes and strengthening the capacity of supreme audit institutions.” It also acknowledges the High-Level Principles of the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) and endorses efforts by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to strengthen fiscal transparency.
Along with the communiqué, international organizations and governments made individual statements, many of which also contain welcome language. More than half make specific reference to budgets, oversight institutions, or fiscal transparency. Fourteen countries committed to open contracting and 10 countries outlined their commitment to the IMF Fiscal Transparency Evaluation. In turn, international organizations offered their support, including the World Bank’s pledge to promote fiscal transparency in collaboration with the IMF and other partners through GIFT.
The United Kingdom committed to launching practitioner partnerships on institutional integrity with Afghanistan, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania. Through these partnerships various accountability actors in the countries will share expertise in the areas of audit, financial regulation, anticorruption, and parliamentary budget oversight. The United Nations also committed to similar practitioner partnerships to strengthen public expenditure, budget formulation, and fiscal transparency. Such practitioner engagement can benefit from platforms like GIFT and the Open Government Partnership Fiscal Openness Working Group, which provide practical support and convene leaders to learn and advance fiscal openness.
Along with statements from those attending the summit, finance, budget, and planning ministries from Brazil, Paraguay, the Philippines, and South Africa also joined IBP and GIFT in signing a statement that explicitly acknowledges the link between fiscal transparency and tackling corruption. Publicly available information on government finances helps identify and deter corruption, while enabling governments to plan the use of public resources and communicate the economic and social implications of their decisions. The signatories’ call reflects a growing body of evidence of the positive impact of fiscal transparency and accountability.
So What’s Next?
IBP and GIFT are working with partners to follow up on the communiqué and country commitments by engaging with governments on fiscal transparency reforms. There are many opportunities to sustain the momentum and help governments deliver. One is for countries to join the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a global initiative to promote transparency, public participation, and accountable governance, as Nigeria did in the lead up to the summit.
But the ultimate impact of country participation in the OGP on corruption and governance depends on member governments making and delivering on strong commitments. For example, more than 50 countries are due to publish their OGP National Action Plans this year. We encourage governments to act on their pledges to open budgets and include action points to do so in their plans. Countries such as Brazil, Bulgaria, Georgia, Italy, Tunisia, Turkey, and Ukraine, which all referred specifically to fiscal transparency in their anti-corruption statements, still have time to include commitments in their OGP plans due at the end of next month. We offer some ideas for doing so, including publishing more budget information and institutionalising transparency gains, and GIFT provides some practical steps and impressive commitments.
OGP countries that explicitly committed to practitioner partnerships to strengthen public financial management, including Kenya, OGP newcomer Nigeria, Tanzania, and the United Kingdom, are encouraged to contact GIFT about participating in the Fiscal Openness Working Group.
There are opportunities in each country to establish more open budgets, by sharing information, enabling oversight, and engaging citizens. We’ll continue working with governments, civil society, and the private sector to drive improvements, including by implementing the GIFT High-Level Principles, and will continue to track progress through the Open Budget Survey.
With the first-ever Anti-Corruption Summit now behind us, we are ready for action and look forward to the next steps in opening budgets and strengthening accountability.