Each year the U.S. State Department is required by law to provide a report on the fiscal transparency of other countries. In general it is a good idea to keep track of how open governments are with their budget process.
Many of the countries that did not meet the minimum level of transparency also do not meet the minimum level of freedom of press, speech and assembly.
To be clear, some of the countries that met the State Department’s minimum level of transparency also have some real problems with press and speech freedoms. For example, Ecuador passes the transparency test put fails the press freedom test. According to Freedom House: “President Rafael Correa and his administration openly disparaged and attacked private outlets and journalists.”
Still, where the freedoms of speech, press and assembly are honored — this is also a problem in Honduras, which also passed the transparency test — generally there are fewer instances of failing the transparency test.
A quick review of the countries failing the transparency test also shows countries with limited or no press freedom. Here are a couple of examples:
China failed the transparency test:
The budget proposal is not made publicly available before the budget is enacted. Budget documents do not identify financial allocations to state-owned enterprises.
And it fails in press freedom (Freedom House):
For the first time in several years, professional journalists from established news outlets were subjected to long-term detention, sentencing, and imprisonment alongside freelancers, online activists, and ethnic minority reporters.
One of the best ways to cure lack of transparency — and to attack corruption — is a strong and independent media.
Oh, by the way, the test for transparency is not that difficult to pass (not if Honduras passed it):
The FY 2015 fiscal transparency review process evaluated whether the identified governments publicly discloses budget documents including expenditures broken down by ministry and revenues broken down by source and type. The review process also evaluated whether the government has an independent supreme audit institution or similar institution that audits the government’s annual financial statements and whether such audits are made publicly available. The review further assessed whether the process for awarding licenses and contracts for natural resource extraction is outlined in law or regulation and followed in practice, and whether basic information on such awards is publicly available. The Department applied the following criteria in assessing whether governments met the minimum requirements of fiscal transparency.
So the points are:
- Did the government publish a public budget?
- Did the government describe how much each agency gets?
- Is there an auditing procedure?
- Are their rules for the exploitation of natural resources?
- And is all this information public?
To be honest that is a pretty low bar to pass. But, if a government doesn’t want free press, it surely does not want its people to be seeing how the money is spent.