The Philippines scored 64, on a scale of 0 to 100, for transparency of eight budget documents in the latest Open Budget Survey (OBS) 2015, a report on 102 countries in the world.
This piece of good news comes, however, with findings of weakness in budget oversight by the Philippine Congress, which got a dismal 36 points.
Yet still, budget oversight by the Commission on Audit got a 92-point score, while public participation, 67, one of the highest in the world.
The new Philippine rating for transparency of budget documents, a 16-point growth from 48 in 2012, puts the country in the top tier of 24 nations that provide substantial budget information to citizens.
The only independent, comparative, and regular measure of global budget transparency and accountability conducted every two years by independent civil society researchers, the OBS is a project of the International Budget Partnership (IBP) based in Washington, DC.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) has served as country researcher for the OBS since 2008. Karol Ilagan and Charmaine P. Lirio of PCIJ did research for the Philippines for OBS 2015.
The OBS does not reflect opinion but measures observable facts using 140 indicators, according to a standard research methodology.
OBS 2015 Is the fifth to be released by IBP since 2006. It now covers 102 countries that are home to about 90 percent of the world’s population.
Not an opinion poll
The OBS uses documented evidence and objective criteria “to evaluate the extent to which national or central governments in 102 countries provide the public with timely and comprehensive access to eight key budget documents required by international good practices.”
The OBS also examines “the ability of legislatures and supreme audit institutions to provide effective oversight of government budgets and opportunities for the public to participate in the budget process.”
The OBS is not an opinion poll or a measure of perceptions. It is based instead on a rigorous, objective methodology subject to independent review.
Researchers were trained in the OBS methodology and required to test budget transparency in practice, visit with government offices to check compliance with publication deadlines, and interview key informants.
Documented evidence, including citation of a law, interview, a copy of a document, were required to back up the researchers’ answers to the questionnaire.
The completed 140-item questionnaires were checked by anonymous, independent reviewers. Government officials were offered an opportunity to comment on the questionnaire for their country. The IBP staff referee any disagreement between reviewers and researchers to arrive at the most appropriate answer for the questions.
What it is, isn’t
A subset of 109 questions from the 140-question OBS is used to construct the Open Budget Index (OBI) that determines a hard score, ranging from 0 to 100, on budget transparency for each country assessed. The Philippines’s score of 64 for budget transparency comes from the OBI.
Meanwhile, the extent of public participation in the budget process was measured in 16 questions, and the strength of oversight institutions, in 15 questions.
The OBI assigns a transparency score on a 100-point scale using 109 of the 140 survey questions, which focuses specifically on whether the government provides the public with timely access to comprehensive information contained in the eight key budget documents.
The OBS, however, “does not directly measure the accuracy of information contained in budget reports — whether the information provided is correct — or the degree to which government budgets are equitable and address the needs of their populace.”
Too, the OBS “does not measure corruption” but only “budget transparency, opportunities for the public to participate, and oversight capability.”
The link exists, however, according to IBP. “If corruption is to be tackled, governments will need to take many different measures. It is critical that governments tackle corruption and as a first step, increase budget transparency and thereby close one door through which corruption can occur.”
Top in ASEAN
The Philippines’s score of 64 — for transparency of budget documents — in the OBI puts it on top of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
In the last eight years, the Philippines’ OBI score has shifted up and down, however. It got 51 in 2006, 48 in 2008, 55 in 2010, 48 in 2012, and finally 64 in the latest report.
Public participation in the budget process got a 67-point grade, which is higher than the global average of 25.