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Fiscal transparency,participation and accountability

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Fiscal transparency, participation and accountability have lately assumed pride of place in public discourse. Largely, this is explained by increased demand for accountability in the face of growing accountability deficit (rising bureaucratic discretion that is unaccompanied by growing accountability). This, piece, therefore, focuses on the International Budget Partnership’s (IBP) newly released book, Open Budgets: The Political Economy of Transparency, Participation, and Accountability. The primacy of the budget as a public allocation tool is apparent to all because, through the budgetary process, we answer the all-important question, ‘who gets what?’ Confirmedly, Hyde (2002; Government Budgeting:Theory, Process, and Politics, p.1) says that budgeting goes to the heart of the governmental decision-making process. In this case, it is important that some principles guide the budgetary process; e.g., (i) transparency; (ii) participation; and (iii) accountability.

 

Budget transparency, a decision-making process through which citizens deliberate and negotiate over the distribution of public resources (Wampler, 2007; ‘A guide to participatory budgeting’ in Shah, A. (ed.), Participatory budgeting, p.:21), goes to the heart of democracy. This is so because democracy is about choice and self determination. Budget transparency, the full disclosure of all relevant fi scal information in a timely and systematic manner (OECD, 2001; OECD best practices for budget transparency, p.1), ensures that the governed see how the government spends their money. Lastly, budget accountability means answerability for one’s budget actions. Thus, the agent (bureaucrat) must fully account to the principal (citizen) for the way that he/she spends public monies. Governments have devised mechanisms to engender the budget principles of transparency, participation and accountability. As an independent check, non-state organisations like the IBP produce reports to score governments on these principles. Thus, the IBP aims to make government budget systems in all countries more transparent and accountable to the public (IBP, 2013; 2012 Annual Report).

 

The IBP focuses on budgets because they are the government’s most powerful tool to meet the needs and priorities of its people (ibid). Thus, the IBP recently released a book, Open Budgets: The Political Economy of Transparency, Participation, and Accountability. Based on country case studies, it seeks to answer key questions around budget transparency, accountability, and participation. Specifically, it asks the following: (i) how and why do governments improve fiscal transparency and engage the public in budget decisions and oversight? (ii) how are reforms sustained over time? and (iii) when and how do increased fi scal transparency and participation improve government responsiveness and accountability? Mainly, the book argues that four main factors contribute to improvements in fiscal transparency and participation: (a) processes of political transition; (b) fiscal and economic crises (these force governments to put in place mechanisms for fi scal discipline and independent scrutiny); (c) publicized cases of corruption; and (d) external influences (these promote global norms that empower domestic reformers and civil society actors (Paolo de Renzio, 2013).

 

The book offers valuable lessons on budget transparency, participation and accountability. A self-professed democracy like Botswana can pick very valuable lessons from it to democratise her budgetary process by extending the contours of budget transparency, participation and accountability. These principles must be grafted to reforms such as the budget pitso.

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