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By Grace M. Pulido Tan

Politicians hiding how they spend money is a political mistake, according to Paolo de Renzio and Joaquim Wehner in their article in The Washington Post ( I have known Paolo since I was at the COA. I can confidently say that as a senior research fellow, his insights have always been evidence-based.

Here, the "evidence" is the 2017 Open Budget Survey (OBS) that the IBP has been conducting every other year since 2006. Countries are compared and ranked on budget transparency, public participation, and oversight by the legislature and supreme audit institutions. Budget transparency is measured by how much information and detail on the budget is made available to the public; public participation, by the mechanisms and opportunities by which citizens can and do participate in the budget and accountability processes; and oversight, by the extent of monitoring by the legislature and audit institutions of the budget and its implementation.

The interplay of these three - transparency, public participation, and oversight - is succinctly described by Paolo and Joaquim, thus: "Meaningful debate around spending and revenue choices can happen only ... where sufficient budget information is publicly available, and where citizens have opportunities to influence decisions. Where budget information is not available, citizens have fewer reasons to trust their governments, perhaps leading to a vicious circle of poor transparency, weakened democracy, and increasing public mistrust... Governments too often perceive transparency and participation as constraints on their autonomy and discretion... they underestimate the increased legitimacy that might come from opening up their budgets. Similarly, where citizens and civil society groups push for fiscal openness and engage directly with governments on their fiscal choices, it is at least plausible that distrust will fall and accountability will rise."

For 2017, the IBP noted that for the first time since 2006, "progress toward transparency stalled." It cited the "lack of institutionalization of open government practices," and that "most countries are not sufficiently transparent to ensure that budgets are allocated in accordance with public priorities or monitored adequately during implementation to deliver on government promises."

So how did the Philippines fare in the 2017 OBS? Very good, or "substantial," in terms of transparency, scoring a 67 and putting it in the top 20 of 115 countries surveyed. It scored 64 in 2015 among 102 countries, so we can say that it effectively sustained its transparency efforts. In terms of legislative oversight, it scored 56 as against 36 in 2015, a significant improvement from "weak" to "limited." As to oversight by the COA, however, it slipped from 92 in 2015 to 83 in 2017, but still "adequate."

The Philippines took a bigger plunge in public participation - 41 as against 67 in 2015; a slide from "adequate" to "limited." Interestingly, the IBP noted that as of 2015, the Philippines has made a "concerted effort to work with CSOs through Budget Partnership Agreements, which have led to increased engagement, collaboration and advocacy for reforms." I wonder if BPAs are still in place?

It looks to me that the decline in public participation has not been limited to the budget and accountability processes. I actually miss the noise and spirited discourse on affairs of state. Anyare?


Grace M. Pulido Tan
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Title Annotation:Opinions and Editorials
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Date:Mar 13, 2018
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