Transparency Helps Democracy take Root

Transparency Helps Democracy take Root

Tutu Alicante February 1, 2009
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An editorial that highlights the important connections between government transparency, government accountabiilty, and democracy.

As a child in Equatorial Guinea, when my father sent me to the corner shop with 1000 CFA Francs to buy him a box of Don Simon wine, or when my mother sent me to the central market to buy rice, upon my return, they always demanded the goods and their change. For them, my accounting for the goods and the change was essential for the smooth running of our household, as well as for their trust in me. The people of Equatorial Guinea, however, cannot expect this same level of accountability from their government about how the national revenues are spent.

The Open Budget Index 2008, published today by the International Budget Partnership and which EG Justice is proud to have helped produce, states that in Equatorial Guinea the average citizen cannot find out how much his or her government collects in taxes or how much it invests in social development. This is because the government does not publish comprehensive budget and audit reports that would enable the people to monitor government expenditures. This lack of transparency increases opportunities for corruption, reduces the state’s capacity to eradicate poverty, and hinders democratic participation.

A democracy is a political system in which sovereignty resides with and it is carried out by the people directly or indirectly. The national budget is a democratic government’s most important economic policy tool. This document contains the social investment policy, a plan for how the government—at the national and local levels—intends to: improve the living conditions of the nation’s most vulnerable groups; reduce wealth disparities; and guarantee that it abides by its economic and social human rights obligations. It is thus essential for the proper functioning of a democracy that all aspects of a national budget, its formulation, approval, implementation, and evaluation, be accessible to the people. Meaningful participation in the budgetary process and access to all relevant documents produced en route help to guarantee that citizens can exercise their right and obligation of ensuring that public funds are used adequately for the well being of the people.

Equatorial Guinea recently received a four-year loan worth over 24 million dollars from the African Development Bank aimed at reforming the country´s public finance management system. This loan is preceded by over 49 million dollars in International Development Assistance loans from the World Bank, and by countless consultations and recommendations from the International Monetary Fund to improve fiscal management and economic development. To date, however, the government of Equatorial Guinea has not taken heed of any of the previous recommendations made by these organizations. In fact, the government´s economic development plan for the next decade, the Plan Nacional de Desarrollo Económico y Social – Horizonte 2020, does not include any provision for access to information, transparency or accountability.

The government of Equatorial Guinea needs to introduce legitimate mechanisms to enhance budget transparency and accountability to the people. The new measures must inevitably include timely publication of comprehensive budget and audit reports. These actions would enable public participation in the country’s development, thereby helping to root a lasting democracy.

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