EghtesadOnline: Public institutions were meant to enter a “glass room”, a proverbial room where everything was transparent: budget figures, executive salaries and contracts.
This was a pledge Hassan Rouhani made during his presidential campaigns and he did take a few steps in that direction.
To start with, Tehran Municipality unveiled a first-of-its-kind website, Shafaf.tehran.ir, on April 10, offering the public a full overview of its major contracts, those worth over 10 billion rials (about $238,095) and the details of the capital city’s fiscal spending outlay.
Then, the treasury’s public expenditure payments during the month of Farvardin (March 21-April 20) were made open to public view on the website of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance, www.mefa.ir, on April 21. The move, however, triggered both negative and positive reactions, according to Financial Tribune.
“Releasing budgetary figures was an effective step toward promoting transparency but it is definitely not enough,” Vahid Majed, Tehran University’s professor, told the Persian economic weekly, Tejarat-e Farda.
“The government needs to take more steps toward ensuring openness and transparency. First, the unambiguous details of budget allocations should be made available for the public and then the government needs to make it clear how the budget will be spent and what objectives it aims to achieve. Finally, it should become clear whether the allotted budget has actually led to an increase in economic efficiency and improvement in public welfare.”
Noting that financial transparency helps promote the quality of governance, Majed said Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be, is closely interrelated with indexes provided by the International Budget Partnership.
“The more transparent the budget of a country, the less corrupt its public sector will be,” he said.
IBP focuses on government budgets because they are at the core of development. Budgets are the government’s most powerful tool to meet the needs of its people, especially those who are poor and marginalized.
Their experience shows that when ordinary people have access to comprehensive and timely budget information, skills and opportunities to participate, broader public engagement in government budget processes can promote substantive improvements in governance and poverty.
But in many countries, budgetary decisions are made behind closed doors with little or no regard for the public interest. The results are poor policy choices and squandering of scarce public resources.
In order to foster more open, participatory and accountable public budgeting, IBP partners with civil society organizations around the world, leverages their knowledge of the country’s political context, helps navigate policy processes for social change and strengthens their relationship with the public in order to transform their country’s budget system.
“Transparency is more than what the government has done so far, i.e. releasing vague numbers that seem more like a hasty political gesture,” said Davoud Souri, professor of Sharif University of Technology.
“The government needs to go through several stages to achieve optimum transparency. The first stage is to release numbers and information on the budget received by each organization. Next, the organization needs to deliver on accountability about where and how the budget has been spent. And finally, experts and media need to be urged to investigate the performance of the organization.”
Souri stressed the need for media freedom to explain and interpret the budgetary figures.
“To the uninitiated, what the government has made available now is no more than a series of numbers. Such a method not only fails to be useful, it may also prove to be misguiding if the numbers are not analyzed correctly,” he said.
“Each individual might interpret these figures as they wish and express the worst of criticisms toward the government and that particular organization. The whole thing would concern the public and fuel the flames of discontent with the system.”