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Fiscal Transparency in the Arab World: Where is the money going?

Renaud Seligmann's picture
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LIVE NOW: Fiscal Transparency in MENA Roundtable
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Join us here on April 17 for a live webcast on fiscal transparency with regional finance ministers

What are Arab governments doing with public funds?
How much money do governments collect, and what are they doing with it? These basic questions are at the core of the fiscal transparency agenda. Fiscal transparency is important for sustainable development. Growing evidence shows that governments with more transparent public finances enjoy better fiscal performance and lower levels of corruption, and that fiscal transparency contributes to high-quality growth, effective public service delivery and macroeconomic stability. The benefits also spread to other areas, such as job creation — by providing room for innovation for the creation of new products and services built on better access to data.

Arab governments need to do better on fiscal transparency
The Arab world is not doing well on access to information when compared to other parts of the world. The International Budget Partnership’s Open Budget Survey 2017 reveals that, with an average Open Budget Index score of 20 out of 100, the Middle East and North Africa is the lowest scoring region in terms of budget transparency and accountability. In addition to the lack of publicly available budget documents, most countries provide little avenue for effective oversight by accountability institutions such as Parliament and Supreme Audit Institutions, and limited opportunities for public engagement in the budget process. Challenges also stem from legal and political restrictions that stifle the media and prevent pro-active information disclosure by governments, all of which limit an informed public debate about the role of government, its accountability, and service delivery.

Reforms Underway
A prevailing culture of secrecy and lack of transparency on the part of state actors were some of the main grievances expressed during the Arab Spring. In response, many governments have focused on promoting open government reforms. In Tunisia, a new fiscal transparency portal acts as a single point of entry for all financial information, including data that is comprehensive, disaggregated, user friendly and fully accessible online. In Morocco, efforts have been made to give citizens access to budget data through an easy-to-read 'Citizen’s Budget,' published every year since 2011. Jordan has pursued public financial management reforms and an anti-corruption strategy that includes transparency commitments. In Egypt, a renewed commitment to establish transparency and disclosure frameworks has resulted in the country’s budget transparency score jumping from 16 to 41 points out of 100 on the Open Budget Survey for the first time in six years, nearing global averages.

How the World Bank and its partners can help
Fiscal transparency, coupled with citizen engagement, is key to help deliver on the promise of better development results and to rebuild trust in government. In collaboration with other development partners (the IMF, the Open Budget Partnership and the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency), the World Bank is supporting government-led initiatives to advance this agenda in the region. This includes the development and implementation of access to information legislation, and efforts to liberalize access to socio-economic information in countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, as well as the Palestinian Territories and Iraq. We are also supporting governments to promote systematic inclusion of citizens in the design, implementation and monitoring of government programs.

Continuing the dialogue and peer-to-peer exchange on the benefits and challenges to fiscal transparency is essential to sustaining the momentum for reform. The time for action is now — the Arab world has a chance to go from lagging to leading on fiscal transparency. The World Bank’s High-Level Roundtable on Fiscal Transparency in MENA on April 17 aims to do exactly that — allowing government officials and civil society representatives from across the region to share their experiences with reforms to enhance fiscal transparency, discuss their challenges and outline strategic directions.

Please send us your questions on fiscal transparency that you would like answered at the event, and join us here for the live webcast on April 17 from 9am to 1130am Washington DC time (1300 to 1530 GMT.)

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