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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title III - Making Parliamentary Information Transparent

Sec. 23. Providing Budget Information

Parliament has a responsibility to make public comprehensive, detailed, and easily understandable information about the national budget and expenditures, including past, current, and projected revenues and expenditures, and information regarding the parliament’s own budget, including information about its own budget execution, bids and contracts, and other funds. This information should be made public in its entirety, using a consistent taxonomy, along with plain language summaries, explanations or reports that help promote citizen understanding.

Citizens, as taxpayers, have the right to access information about public funds and their use. According to the OECD, “Legislatures' budgetary oversight function contributes to transparency and public financial accountability. The presentation of the budget and related documentation in the legislature is normally the first opportunity for public scrutiny of the government’s spending priorities. Legislative debate in both the plenary and committees facilitates public participation in the budget process.”[1] But for public participation in the budget process to be effective, citizens must have access to all budgetary, spending, and audit information accessible by parliament and the executive. Raw budget data, furthermore, should be released in an open format and using a consistent taxonomy that allows for comparison and automated analysis. The OECD provides an extensive and comprehensive roadmap for budget transparency in their Best Practices for Budget Transparency.[2]

In addition to providing all budgetary information in raw form, parliaments should ensure that this information is in a format that can be understood by the general public. To facilitate citizen understanding and analysis, parliament should release plain language summaries, reports and analyses of budget data. The Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites recommend that parliaments publish explanations of budget processes and roles, proposals, reviews, and documentation regarding the review of past and present activities in a searchable database.[3] 

 

Although part of the national budget, the parliament’s own budget, and information on its execution, should also be made public. In Argentina, both chambers of the legislature are required to publish their budgets, expenditures, and details about administrative positions and the awarding of contracts.[4] Both houses of parliament in India contain links to the website that includes detailed budget information for parliament,[5] while the Ministry of Finance’s website houses the budget for the government of India as a whole, including presentations, speeches and reports given to parliament.[6] The Indian budget is reviewed in detail by parliamentary committees, whose resulting reports and recommendations are also available on the parliamentary chambers’ websites. Further, annual reports and performance budgets are available on the websites of all ministries and government departments.[7] Each year in Uganda, a government ministry brings together all stakeholders involved in the budget process, including Parliament and civil society, among others. “They come together to discuss and share information on the government’s economic performance as well as… available resources… This involves goal and objective setting, as well as review of progress made in terms of service provision over the previous year.”[8] In many countries, the supreme audit institution reports to parliament, and their audit reports should also be made public.

There are also non-parliamentary examples of good budget transparency practice. In fulfillment of the commitments of the Open Government Partnership, the government of Brazil established a Transparency Portal—which as of 2010, is updated daily—that provides “online information on the execution of the federal budget in clear and understandable language.”[9] After the enactment of new laws in 2009, all levels of government must disclose in real time on the Internet their budgetary execution data. In Chile, as of 2006, all public bodies are required to public details of the spending of public funds, contracts, and staff information; which is then linked to the electronic ChileCompra system and available to the public.[10] 


[1] OECD, Government at a Glance 2011, p. 191.

[2] OECD, Best Practices for Budget Transparency, http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/33/13/1905258.pdf. Accessed, 2/14/2012.

[3] IPU, Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites, §2.3.

[4] Participa Corporation, Poder Ciudadano, and Accion Cuidadana, Regional Index of Parliamentary Transparency, August 2008, p. 10.

[5] Centre for Civil Society, Parliament and Citizens: Bridging the Gap Through Greater Transparency, July 2010, p. 6.

[6] Indian Ministry of Finance Website, Union Budget and Economic Survey. http://indiabudget.nic.in/index.asp. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[7] SAHR, Transparency in Parliament, Sri Lanka 2009, p. 48.

[8] Parliamentary Centre, African Parliamentary Index, June 2011, p. 168.

[9] Open Government Partnership, Brazil: Country Commitments, www.opengovpartnership.org/countries/brazil. Accessed 6/12/2012.

[10] Helen Darbishire, Proactive Transparency: The future of the right to information?, World Bank Institute, p. 12.