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India scores better than global average on budget transparency

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MUMBAI: India scored slightly better than the global average when it comes to budget transparency, according to results of the Open Budget Survey (2017) released on January 30.
With a rank of 53 among 115 countries covered by the survey, India's score of 48 out of 100 for transparency (as against the global average of 43), showed an improvement of 2 percentage points over the 2015 index.

Every two years, the International Budget Partnership (IBP), using over a hundred indicators, assesses budget transparency based on the amount, level of detail and timeliness of budget information made available to the public.

Results of the Open Budget Survey (2017), highlight that the global average score of budget transparency has declined by 2 percentage points from 45 in 2015 to 43 in 2017. It reflects that 89 out of the 115 countries fail to make sufficient budget information publicly available. IBP states that this failure undermines the ability of citizens to hold their government to account for managing public funds.

Countries like New Zealand and South Africa (with scores of 89 each) topped the charts whereas Saudi Arabia scored one or for that matter Qatar and Yemen scored a zero indicating that no budget information being available in the public domain. The average score for South Asian countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) was 46, an increase of 5 percentage points over the 2015 survey results.

To improve budget transparency, IBP suggests that India should draft and publish a pre-budget statement and mid-year review. Pre budget statements are published by nearly 50 countries, including India's neighbour - Afghanistan. It should also increase the information in the budget proposals by providing detailed information on the financial position of the government and extra-budgetary funds. India should also provide more information, such as comparisons between planned revenue and actual outcomes and a comparison between the original macroeconomic forecast and actual outcomes.

In terms of public participation, the Open Budget Survey (2017) gave India a score of 15 out of 100, denoting that few opportunities are provided to the public to engage in the budget process. Interestingly, this score is above the global average of 12. For improving public participation, IBP suggests introduction of a pilot mechanism (such as social audits) to enable the public and government officials to exchange views on national budget mattes during monitoring of the national budget implementation.

Among India's neighbours, Nepal had the highest score of 24 on the public participation parameter. India tied with Afghanistan with a score of 15. Bangladesh followed with a score of 13.

In terms of budget oversight, India obtained a score of 48. The IBP said that the legislature and supreme audit institution (which is the Comptroller and Auditor General - CAG) provide weak oversight during the planning stage of the budget cycle and limited oversight during the implementation stage of the budget cycle.

For the 2017 survey, documents that should have been published prior to December 2016, were assessed. According to India based think-tank, the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability which partnered with IBP: "In terms of publishing timely and relevant information in the audit reports and year end reports, India has scored well above other countries. Non publication of a pre-budget statement and mid-year review in 2016 lowered India's score. However, had the survey been carried out for financial year 2017-18, India's score would have been higher, advancing the presentation of the budget by a month since last year has made the earlier practice of Vote on Account redundant and the full budget gets enacted before the start of the new financial year."