12, December, 2011

Citizen Assessment of Budget Transparency: The Latin American Budget Transparency Index

Latin American civil society organisations have created the first budget transparency index that measures not only if budget information has been published, but if that information is useful. What’s more, it does so by surveying the users of budget information themselves.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) developed a new benchmarking exercise to assess and compare levels of budget transparency across countries, to address a specific transparency problem: budget information may be available, but it is not useful. Since 2001, CSOs and academic institutions have implemented the Latin American Budget Transparency Index (Índice Latinomericano de Transparencia Presupuestaria – LABTI) to measure not only the accessibility of budget information, but also its usefulness. As a perceptions-based exercise, LABTI innovates by surveying not only budget specialists, but also the variety of stakeholders that use budget information. An exercise like this one allows governments to assess if the information they are publishing is useful, while also promoting citizen participation and creating a budgetary culture, and giving a variety of actors a tool to push for transparency reforms. This Brief describes the distinctive features of this index, concrete changes LABTI has achieved and the key factors underpinning the tool’s successful use, all in an effort to offer useful lessons learned for other contexts.

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Key Lessons:

  • Carrying out a perception-based exercise gives stakeholders an assessment of the state of budget transparency in terms of the usefulness and quality of budget information. Additionally, improving the quality of information strengthens the checks and balances system.
  • LABTI is helping to create bridges between governments, parliamentarians and citizens by providing concrete recommendations to improve the way budget information is published.

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