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Anjali Garg
Head of the Open Budget Survey   

 

 

 

While many governments and communities are looking ahead to post-COVID recovery and a “new normal,” the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on societies and economies. This is a critical time to reflect on how governments around the world managed the $14 trillion in emergency fiscal packages that were mobilized in 2020. From the start, we knew governments had to act boldly and swiftly to meet the needs of their people. But there was also a chorus of voices, including from IBP, urging governments to be transparent and accountable to ensure public resources reached those who needed it most and to help societies build back better. 

Never had the work of IBP and our partners been more critical and we knew we had to find a way to track and assess how governments managed emergency spending. Working with the same civil society researchers who conduct the Open Budget Survey in 120 countries, we developed a rapid assessment of open governance practices surrounding the most important emergency fiscal policy package initiated in each of the countries between March and September 2020. Managing COVID funds: The accountability gap, our global scorecard of accountability, is the result of this collective research. Our goal was not only to understand how governments managed funds but also to generate lessons on how they can respond better, both to the ongoing crisis and to future ones. 

Unfortunately, we found that too many countries used urgency as an excuse to not be as transparent, accountable or inclusive as they could be. Nevertheless, a few countries showed a better way is possible. Paraguay has a one-stop-shop site that publishes all pandemic-related procurement. Twenty-two countries as diverse as BangladeshCanada and Togo recognized the disproportionate impacts on women and published information on policies targeting them. In Jamaica, the Auditor General published three concurrent audit reviews of the government’s cash transfer program, and the Ministry of Finance worked closely with the national audit office to follow up on audit recommendations. Citizen-led efforts like South Africa’s Asivikelane, which uses scorecards to track water and sanitation services, prove valuable to authorities and should be replicated by governments.

There are practical steps governments must take now to bolster accountability, such as publishing monthly progress reports (online) and disclosing procurement details in open formats. Over the long-term, governments can also strengthen systems in the annual budget cycle to be better prepared for future crises. The international donor community also has a role to play by supporting country-led efforts to publish more information about what they are spending and to facilitate oversight by legislatures, auditors and citizens.

The COVID crisis is far from over, and we must keep mobilizing resources for the global response, including ensuring equitable access to vaccines. If we are serious about equity and justice, we must simultaneously get serious about accountability to ensure that no one is left out of relief efforts and has a path to recovery.

On May 24, alongside government officials, civil society partners, and international institutions, we unveiled the results of a rapid assessment of 120 countries’ performance on transparency, oversight and public participation in COVID relief packages in our event, Managing COVID funds: A global scorecard of accountability.

Our Board member and Secretary General of CARE International, Sofía Sprechmann Sineiro, moderated the event, and was joined by Vivek Ramkumar, IBP’s Senior Director of Policy and fellow panelists: Nazir Kabiri, Deputy Minister for Policy, Ministry of Finance, Afghanistan; Michael Aguinaldo, Chairperson of the Commission on Audit, the Philippines; Shumani Luruli, Program Coordinator, Planact, South Africa; and Carolina Rentería, Chief, Public Financial Management Division I, Fiscal Affairs Department, International Monetary Fund. More than 600 attendees joined the robust conversation on the lessons learned and how governments can build back better and prepare for future crises.

Dive into our media toolkit with content to keep the conversation going on social media using #OpenBudgets and #Account4COVID.


In this section, we shine a spotlight on partners who are using budget advocacy to bring transformational change to their communities. This month, we talk with Elena Calistru, chair and founder of Funky Citizens, a Romanian-based NGO that builds research-based, data-driven advocacy tools. Funky Citizens was one of our research partners on the COVID-19 accountability assessment.

Learn more about the work of Funky Citizens here and read this coverage of their work in Ziua de Cluj.

 
  • Managing COVID Funds: the Accountability Gap: Our rapid assessment of 120 countries across 26 indicators of transparency, oversight and public participation in the management of Coronavirus assistance found that more than two thirds of governments fell short of managing their emergency packages in an accountable manner; almost two-thirds failed to follow transparent procurement procedures; almost half of the countries bypassed legislatures to introduce relief packages; and only about a quarter of national auditors published expedited audit reports. It also documents good practices across a broad range of countries and makes actionable recommendations countries can take to bolster accountability now and longer-term.
     
  • IBP Kenya has released the latest County Budget Transparency Survey which assesses the public availability of key budget documents at Kenya’s sub-national level. This survey was carried out with civil society organizations based in the counties.
     
  • IBP and PEMNA (the Public Expenditure Management Network in Asia) have just published: Open budgeting practices in the Asia and Pacific region.
     
  • Promoting more open and accountable tax systems: the role of international principles and standards is a joint publication of the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency and IBP, and dives into lessons on the conditions, settings, processes, and methods required to promote strong civil society engagement in the revenue side of fiscal transparency.

Our COVID accountability scorecard garnered media attention from around the world, including Public FinanceThe Manila TimesLa Prensa GraficaNepal Live TodayBeta News AgencyDanas, Hlavné SprávyEcco and many more, representing an aggregate readership of 104 million over the past week (in addition to broadcasts).

Below are our top two mentions this week:

 
  • Call for papers: The Institute of Public Finance and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung are organizing the research and policy conference, “Does fiscal openness pay off? The political and socio-economic effects of transparency, participation and accountability” and are seeking abstracts for original, previously unpublished papers or preferably finished papers in English. The deadline for submissions is May 31 and more information is available here.
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