26 Jan Fast progress possible on open budgets

Written by Anjali Garg and Joel Friedman Published in Commentary Read 5127 times
The Central Bank of Myanmar building in Yangon. Photo: Bo Bo
The Central Bank of Myanmar building in Yangon. Photo: Bo Bo

When citizens have access to information about their government’s budget and opportunities to engage in budget debates, they can contribute to better, more effective policies and, ultimately, to better outcomes for people.

Although the Myanmar government’s commitment to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative process and the Open Government Partnership are promising signs that it intends to be more open, Bart Robertson emphasises in “Engaging the public in the budget debate,” (Mizzima, December 11, 2014) that much more that needs to be done – especially when it comes to the government budget.

To allow citizens, civil society, media, and others to monitor whether their government is taking steps to make the budget process more open, the International Budget Partnership launched the Open Budget Survey Tracker (OBS Tracker. The Tracker captures changes in government budget transparency practices each month.

Using data from the Tracker, Mr Robertson notes that Myanmar publishes only the enacted budget. It is just one of the eight key budget documents that governments should be publishing to comply with the international standards for fiscal transparency developed by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions.

By failing to make timely and accessible budget information available to the public, the Myanmar government makes it nearly impossible for citizens and civil society to play a constructive role in developing the nation’s budget priorities.

The good news, Mr Robertson reports, is that the Ministry of Finance has committed to publishing a citizens’ budget (a simplified and accessible version of the budget) in the coming year. This would be a welcome development, as would the publication of the Executive’s budget proposal and the audit report.

The Tracker not only monitors the publication of the eight key budget documents, but it also shows when during the year they are supposed to be published, so that civil society knows when to look for new budget information or to call on government to make it available. The OBS Tracker website also provides access to examples of citizens budgets and other documents that other governments have produced.

Mr Robertson issued a stark reminder of how far the government has to go to meet international fiscal transparency standards, but he also observes that Myanmar already produces six of the eight key budget documents for internal purposes. The government can greatly increase budget transparency quickly and at minimal cost by publishing these documents. This would be an important step for the government to take to become more open and accountable.

(Anjali Garg is a program officer with the Washington-based International Budget Partnership’s Open Budget Initiative, where Joel Friedman is a senior fellow)

This Article first appeared in the January 15, 2015 edition of Mizzima Weekly.

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