India half-way through in promoting budget transparency: Global Survey

India half-way through in promoting budget transparency: Global Survey

New Delhi, January 31 (Pervez Bari): With a score of 48, India ranks slightly above the global average for budget transparency. While the global average score for budget transparency is 43 on a scale of 0-100.

The Survey highlights that the global average score of budget transparency has declined by 2 percentage points from 45 in 2015 to 43 in 2017. There are only 28 countries that provide ‘sufficient budget information’ at the level of the national budget, (scoring above 61 points in the scale of 0-100). Countries like New Zealand and South Africa (89 each) top the charts whereas Qatar and Yemen score a zero indicating no budget information being available in public domain. The average score for South Asian countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) registered an increase of 5 percentage points during the period to reach 46. India’s overall score is 48, an improvement of 2 percentage points from a score of 46 in 2015.

In terms of publishing timely and relevant information in Audit Reports and In-Year Reports, India has scored well above other countries. Not publishing Pre-Budget Statement and Mid-Year Review in 2016 lowered the country’s score. However, had the OBS been carried out for financial year 2017-18, India’s score would have been higher; as the advancing of presentation of Union Budget by a month last year made the earlier practice of Vote on Account redundant and the full Budget gets enacted before the start of the new financial year.

However, a critical indicator for enhancing budget transparency is the scope available for public participation in budgetary processes; and, India has scored only 15 out of 100 in public participation, which is better than the global average of 12 but still very low with regard to the role of legislatures and that of the Comptroller and Auditor General, (CAG), in terms of the oversight on budgets, India’s score is 48 out of 100. As the functioning of these oversight institutions is very crucial in the budget accountability ecosystem, there is a need for stepping-up efforts in this domain.

The idea of ‘good governance’ has gained a lot of momentum in the recent years and ‘Budget Transparency’ has acquired importance as one of the parameters of ‘good governance’ across the globe. In light of this, it is pertinent to see where India stands in a global survey of budget transparency covering more than 100 countries.
It may be mentioned here that a global survey on budget transparency has been carried out by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) covering 115 countries, including India. Their Open Budget Survey (OBS) 2017 is based on an internationally comparable methodology using 109 equally weighted indicators to measure budget transparency on a scale of 0-100 (https://www.internationalbudget.org/open-budget-survey/).

The survey, for each country, evaluates eight key budget documents of the national/ Union / Central Government and assesses whether these documents are made public (i.e. available online) in a timely manner providing comprehensive information. These eight key budget documents are: Pre-Budget Statement; Executive’s Budget Proposal; Enacted Budget; Citizens Budget; In-Year Reports; Mid-Year Review; Year-End Report and Audit Report. The survey was carried out between September and December 2016, thus covering the developments up to 31 December 2016, in the financial year 2016-17.

Meanwhile, Subrat Das, Executive Director of CBGA, observed that, “OBS is a good indicator of budget transparency at the Union level, but it is limited in scope as it does not capture the issues of transparency at the sub-national level, particularly at the district level”. He also added that “a number of steps initiated at the Union level during the last seven to eight years, such as publishing all budget documents in machine readable format, improved accessibility of the expenditure budget document and central share of funds in all Centrally Sponsored Schemes being routed through the State Budgets have improved budget transparency to some extent”.
Nilachala Acharya, Research Coordinator, CBGA and Researcher OBS, believes that “lack of availability of district-specific budget information is a serious challenge. Hence by making state and district treasury information publicly accessible and publishing information pertaining to fund flow and fund utilisation of development schemes at the district and sub-district level would significantly enhance budget transparency in the country.”