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India Ranks Among Top 15 in Budgetary Transparency
Source: southasia.oneworld.net
Source Date: Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Country: India
Created: Nov 01, 2010

A survey conducted in 94 countries reveals that India is ‘moderately open’ in making budgetary procedures public. The Open Budget Index (OBI) also shows that budget procedures in India are more transparent than most South Asian countries.

India ranks among the top 15 countries in the world in ensuring budgetary transparency, reveals a study conducted by Centre for budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), New Delhi in collaboration with International Budget Partnership, a Washington based agency.

According to the survey, India scores 67% on an Open Budget Index 2010 conducted in 94 countries. The index evaluates the quantity and type of budget information that governments make available to the public during the course of the budget year.

The scores of 92 questions from the open budget survey have been used to compile objective scores and rankings of the relative transparency of each country’s budget process. The countries are marked on a scale of 100.

The study finds that in 41 of the 94 countries surveyed, the amount of information available on the budget is grossly inadequate.

The Open Budget Survey 2010 is the third such global survey, previously conducted in 2006 and 2008. The OBI has been developed based on this survey and all selected countries have been ranked based on their Open Budget indices.

Democracies perform better

The survey finds that countries that are classified as full democracies received an average OBI score of 72 out of 100, whereas hybrid and authoritarian regimes scored an average of 36 and 17 respectively.

South Africa tops the list with a score of 92. India and Sri Lanka stand at par in budget transparency and score much better than other South Asian countries. In India, this is mostly attributed to the RTI tool and the fact that the government provides the public with significant information on the central government’s budget and financial activities during the course of the budget year.

Besides South Africa, other countries which rank high in the index include New Zealand, UK and France while countries like Iraq, Fiji and Saudi Arabia disseminate very limited information on the budget and score miserably low in the Index. China too, fares poorly in the survey with a score of 13 on a hundred.

Need for public participation and more transparency in India

India’s score has steadily increased from 53 to 67 from 2006 to 2010 since it started publishing comprehensive budget documents like the Citizen Budget, Enacted Budget and the In-Year reports. Data from these documents can be used by the citizen to assess the government’s stated policy priorities and hold it to account. India is among the few countries in the survey which publishes a Citizen Budget.

The parameters used to garner this information include public access to budget information; opportunities to participate in the budgetary processes; scrutiny by the legislature and the Supreme Audit Institutions (SAI) which is the office of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in India.

Besides improving the availability and comprehensiveness of key budget documents, experts feel there are other ways in which India’s budget process could be made more open. These include ensuring the existence of a strong legislature that provides effective budget supervision, as well as providing greater opportunities for the public to participate in the budget process.

The CBGA survey finds the budget overview provided by India’s legislature inadequate as it does not hold any public hearings on the budget where the general public can offer opinions on the budgetary expenditure.

The supervision provided by the CAG in India is relatively strong, but it lacks proper channels for communication with the public.

Pratap Ranjan Jena, Associate Professor, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, suggests that the audit reports of the CAG be used as a tool for strengthening accountability, provided they are discussed thoroughly in the parliament and properly implemented.

Another issue, according to B.P. Mathur, former deputy Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, is the time lag between when the money is spent and by when it is accounted for by the government.

“Ideally speaking, spending and recording of expenditure should happen simultaneously to reduce the risk of discrepancies and misappropriation of funds. However, as of now the government systems are such that if you spend something today for example, it will get recorded officially only during say, the month of March, later or perhaps never,” he said.
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