Improving transparency and accountability in the budget process: An assessment of recent initiatives

Improving transparency and accountability in the budget process: An assessment of recent initiatives

Assessing the impact of transparency and accountability initiatives

Transparency of budget process has, in the last two decades, become one of the pillars of good governance. However, have budget-related transparency and accountability initiatives (TAIs) been effective? This paper analyses the impact of these initiatives through a synthesis of existing assessments conducted by academics, NGOs and donors.

The author first positions the debate in a wider context, explaining why the transparency concerns have gained momentum as well as providing a short introduction to major budget-related TAIs. Secondly, the author provides an overview of the expected assumptions of the impact of the initiatives. Thirdly, through the examination of academic resources on the consequences of budget transparency, as well as case studies and donor reviews, the paper looks at evidence for their effectiveness and their actual impact. The analysis continues with an examination of the multiple factors that influence their effectiveness. Lastly it detects the gaps in the current transparency literature and provides possible improvements.

The author emphasises several findings:

  • Budget-related TAIs are starting to have an impact. There is greater participation and scrutiny of budget processes as they are no longer solely in the hands of finance ministers and technocrats. This in turn might have a positive impact on pro-poor spending and development outcomes
  • Shifting allocations in public funds, greater access to public sanitation, paved roads and land grants are some of the most dramatic results of participatory budgeting initiatives and social audits
  • There is a need for more rigor when researching the impact of budget related TAIs. Especially in terms of linking enhanced access to budget information with improved government accountability
  • Another issue is the lack of studies that clearly demonstrate the impact of participatory budgeting on people’s well-being
  • Democratic and developmental challenges cannot be solved by budget transparency and accountability alone. They should be a supplement to other efforts
  • The expansion of budget TAIs has the potential to influence the creation of TAIs in other areas and increased budget access can be empowering to citizens - thus improving their lives
  • As budget related TAIs gain momentum it is the duty of development practitioners and researchers to record these processes.
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