Open Budget Survey 2021

8th Edition Summary

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Key Takeaways

2008

Since 2008, transparency scores have increased more than 20 percent.

31%

of countries provide sufficiently detailed information to understand how their budget addresses poverty.

14%

of governments present their expenditures by gender.

8

Only eight countries worldwide have formal channels to engage underserved communities.

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50%

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Transparency in the United States compared to others

Public engagement in budget decision-making is the weakest link in accountability systems. Budgets remain a primarily elite conversation with few avenues for ordinary people to engage and have a say. 

  • Only four countries (South Korea, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Georgia) offer moderate opportunities for public participation. 
  • While some countries engage with the public when formulating or approving budgets, very few do so during implementation and oversight phases. 
  • Only eight countries worldwide have formal channels to engage underserved communities.
  • Nearly two out of five national audit offices provide channels for public consultation during audit planning, but it is particularly prevalent in Latin America where the public contributes to audit plans in 15 of the 18 countries. Far fewer national audit offices (only 20 worldwide) allow the public to take part in its investigations, which is a missed opportunity to gather essential data communities might have easier access to.

Budget oversight by legislators and national auditors is limited and there are serious gaps in checks and balances in the management of public funds. In three out of five surveyed countries, executives can shift funds between agencies or reduce budgeted funds without first gaining legislative approval. The institutional framework for formal oversight by legislatures is generally weaker than for auditors. But many executives feel little pressure to implement audit recommendations. 

In this latest survey, legislative oversight has declined due to a variety of factors, such as political unrest, the pandemic and executive overreach. 

  • In 17 countries, legislative oversight is lower in 2021 compared to 2017.
  • The number of countries with weak legislative oversight practices has increased by 10 (from 36 in 2017 to 46 in 2021). 
  • Some legislatures were less active and held fewer hearings during the approval and execution stages of the budget process. 
  • Executives submitted draft budgets late to their legislatures, which made it difficult for legislators to provide adequate oversight.  
  • We also saw some executives taking more actions to shift budgeted funds between agencies and reduce budgeted funds without first obtaining approval from the legislature in this round of the survey than in the 2019 survey.  

The average score for audit oversight remains unchanged, but serious challenges persist. Executives in some countries have found ways to undermine Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) while staying within the boundaries of the law. 

  • One-third of legislatures failed to examine audit reports.  
  •  In two out of three countries, legislators or auditors do not track if their executive government follows through on audit recommendations. 
  • Some intrepid auditors face reprisals from executives for simply doing their jobs. For instance, the auditor general of Sierra Leone—who had won praise for her real-time audit of Ebola funds and conducted a similar real-time audit of COVID relief funds—was unduly suspended just weeks before her office was due to present its annual audit.

Most countries are still far from being sufficiently transparent to allow for meaningful engagement and scrutiny of public spending. There are some important missed opportunities.  

  • Nearly one in three budget documents that should be published worldwide are missing from the public domain. 
  • Three out of five countries surveyed do not publish mid-year reports. These documents are important channels to communicate changes in spending. During the first year of the pandemic, they were an important tool for governments to communicate to their publics how the COVID crisis had upended economic and budget forecasts and provide details of their emergency fiscal policy responses. 
  • One out of every three countries do not publish audit reports, which negates the opportunity for auditors and legislators to work together to ensure that public funds are used as intended. 
  • Only 31 percent of countries provide sufficiently detailed information to understand how their budget addresses poverty. 
  • Only 14 percent of governments present their expenditures by gender in their budget proposals. 
  • Many governments failed to provide information about debt. 

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Afrique francophone
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America Latina y Caribe
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Centroamérica
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Eastern Europe and Central Asia
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South Asia
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Southeast Asia and the Pacific
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Sub-Saharan Africa
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A Call to Open Budgets

Join us and our many international and national partners to urge governments to:
  1. Establish meaningful, inclusive spaces to engage the public in budget processes.
  2. Curtail executive overreach and empower legislators and auditors’ oversight roles.
  3. Disclose more and better budget information.
  4. Sustain progress by institutionalizing accountability reforms.
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