Countries that want to send aid to poorer nations have a problem. Often, the poorer countries got that way because of corrupt governments. And sending money to corrupt governments won’t fight poverty. It’ll just put more money in the pockets of crooked leaders.
On the other hand, countries that want foreign aid to help their poor citizens need a way to show donors their money will go where it’s intended.
Enter the Open Budget Initiative. It’s a project by the International Budget Partnership. In 85 countries, IBP’s local civil society partners have been gathering and publishing budget information to make public finance more transparent. And to bring reform.
The countries surveyed are ranked in the Open Budget Survey. The most recent year is 2008. Only five countries of the 85 surveyed — France, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States — make extensive information publicly available as required by generally accepted good public financial management practices. Those countries scored 80 out of a possible 100 points on the Open Budget Index (OBI).
The average score for the latest OBI was 39 out of 100. Budget disclosure, of course, is voluntary. Twenty five countries provided little or no budget information, including Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nicaragua, and the Kyrgyz Republic, China, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia.
The least transparent countries are mostly located in the Middle East and North Africa (with an average OBI score of 24 out of 100), and in sub-Saharan Africa (average OBI score of 25). The worst performers tend to be low-income countries, and those that depend heavily on revenues from foreign aid or oil and gas exports.
The top ten countries are the United Kingdom, South Africa, France, New Zealand, the United States, Norway, Sweden, Brazil, Slovenia, and Poland.
The bottom twenty five countries are Niger, Nigeria, Nicaragua, Burkina Faso, China, Fiji, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Cambodia, Yemen, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Kyrgyz Republic, Chad, Bolivia, Cameroon, Angola, Liberia, Senegal, Algeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Equatorial Guinea.
* * *
Next month, the Revenue Watch Institute and Transparency International will release the Revenue Watch Index. It’ll measure government openness in the oil, gas and mining sectors in 41 countries, including most of the biggest producers of petroleum, gold, copper and diamonds. Many of those countries are also among the world’s poorest because of grand corruption at the top.