Friday, February 13, 2009

Budget transparency: Surprised and embarrassed- Malaysiakini

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia scored a dismal 35 out of 100 points in the Open Budget Index (OBI) 2008 and is ranked 53rd out of 85 countries, prompting Centre for Public Policy Studies chairman Tan Sri Dr Ramon Navaratnam to declare he was “surprised and embarrassed.”

Malaysia is now listed under the “minimal information” category on Budget information provided by the Government, behind countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

“I am surprised and embarassed to know that our Budget is not as transparent as it should be,” Navaratnam said.

“I urge the Government to make the Budget more transparent,” he said, adding that information should trickle down to the grassroots, especially those in rural areas.

On that note, he said there is a general feeling that people do not know much about the first stimulus package, and that the Government should provide more information such as which states and areas are getting the funds and who are getting them.

Foreign investors are also interested because it would reveal the risk factors in doing business.

Navaratnam pointed out that there were two main documents that lack public accessibility in Malaysia -- the Citizen’s Budget (a simplified version of the enacted Budget) and the mid-year review on revenues and expenditure.

He said he will bring up the matter with Treasury officials, and consult the Washington-based International Budget Partnership, the non-governmental organisation that compiled the OBI Index.

He will also consult countries that are doing well on ways to improve the Malaysian index.

According to the report, the minimal information provided by the Malaysian Government makes it quite difficult for citizens to hold government accountable for its management of the public’s money.

The Budget information used was based on information in 2007 and in providing information, with the categories being extensive, significant, some, minimal or no information.

Britain, South Africa, France, New Zealand and the United States ranked the highest in the OBI, where their governments provided “extensive information.”

It was found that 80% of the world’s governments failed to provide adequate information for the public.

The key documents that should be made accessible to the public are the pre-Budget statement, Executive’s budget proposal, Citizen’s Budget, In-year Reports, Mid-year Review, Year-end Report and Audit Report.

The survey covered 124 questions on budget development -- formulation, legislative approval, implementation and audit.

This was the second time the OBI was compiled, and the first time Malaysia participated.

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