Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Open Budgets: Time for Ireland to join the rest of the world

Today, the World bank is hosting a live blogging event on the results of the International Budget Partnership's 'Open Budget Survey'. The survey, produced every two years by independent experts, measures and compares budget transparency and accountability in one hundred countries across the Global North and South. The 2012 survey found that 77 out of these countries failed to meet "basic standards of budget transparency".

Unfortunately, unlike some of our fellow EU member states, Ireland is not included in this survey. If Ireland was included where would we stand?.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has an impressive reform agenda, from whistleblower protection to the establishment of a system of regulation of lobbyists. Part of this reform agenda includes reform of the budgetary procedures. While much of the commentary on the preparation of the budget has focused on the role of the Economic Management Council and whether or not it weakens the role of the Cabinet, outside of NGOs, relatively little attention has been paid to the decrease in information provided by Budget 2013. Apologies for the repetition, but as Nat O'Connor noted in this blog in December 2013:

"The current Programme for Government agreed by Fine Gael and Labour is full of commitments to openness and transparency. Not least, on page 23, the pledge that “We will open up the Budget process to the full glare of public scrutiny in a way that restores confidence and stability by exposing and cutting failing programmes and pork barrel politics.”

Yet, for the first time in years, we were not given a full break down of spending decisions to the level of expenditure programmes and organisational budgets for a number of Departments. What might have been three or more pages of detail in a previous budget for some of the key departmental blocks of voted expenditure was reduced to just one page per vote block in the Budget 2013 Expenditure Report. The votes affected were: GardaĆ­; Prisons; Courts; Justice and Equality; the local government fund under Environment, Community and Local Government; Education and Skills; and Agriculture and Food. Only Social Protection and Health provided the same break down of sub-heads as last year.

What this means in effect is that some publicly-funded organisations are no wiser after the budget about what level of change has occurred in their individual budgets for next year, which begin in a few weeks’ time. It also means that policy analysts and journalists cannot give people in Ireland as full a picture on what promises and policies are implemented or not through the decisions made by each Minister on how his or her budget allocations will be spent".

Minister Howlin has announced his intention to bring proposals to Government on joining the Open Government Initiative established by President Obama in September. Part of this initiative requires a commitment to "Fiscal Transparency". Hopefully Budget 2013's backward step in terms of transparency will be reversed by budget 2014. In the meantime, you can watch the live blog of the Open Budget Survey here, and hopefully by the time of the next Open Budget Survey, Ireland will have joined the rest of the world.

1 comment:

Roger O'Keeffe said...

Lost a post about this in cyberspace...

Lived through four shambolic budget processes in 3 years in Dept of Finance years ago.
It's far worse than people imagine, and all due to our aping the Westminster drumroll-cymbal-crash nonsense.

Important but mutually incoherent decisions are taken while people are out on their feet working day & night trying to meet spurious deadlines. But once the decisions are taken & announced to loud fanfares, the doctrine of ministerial infallibility means opposition amendments are rejected out of hand, even when they make sense.

We could start with a fool's guide to budget processes in the rest of Europe, rather than the now inevitable practice of not looking beyond UK & maybe New Zealand.