Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Amenah Pangandaman reiterated the importance of budget transparency after the Philippines slipped eight notches in a budget transparency survey for 2021 but still maintained its lead in Southeast Asia.
“It is vital that we realize that open government does not only benefit the system, rather its advantage cascades to different sectors of society. It creates more stable conditions to incentivize investments from the private sector, sets the stage for ensuring public trust, and strengthens the country’s democratic institution’s principles,” Pangandaman said during the 2021 Open Budget Survey (OBS) Public Forum held recently , organized by the La Salle Institute of Governance, together with the International Budget Partnership and Stratbase ADR Institute.
Results of the 2021 OBS show that the Philippines was able to maintain its lead in Southeast Asia despite a decline in its score. The Philippines scored 68 out of 100 in budget transparency, placing the country at the 19th rank out of 120 countries. In the previous round of the OBS in 2019, the Philippines got a score of 76 and ranked 10th.
Pangandaman stressed DBM’s commitment to open and participatory government and its intent to take OBS recommendations to improve budget processes.
“We are also committed to continuing working towards an open and participatory government as we chair the Philippine Open Government Partnership Stating committee. Furthermore, we will take the recommendations of the OBS to heart and study the feasibility of introducing this in our processes,” she added.
Suad Hasan of the International Budget Partnership (IBP) expressed hope that the Philippines would increase its efforts to improve budget transparency after falling out of the top ten performers in the 2021 OBS.
“We, in the open budget survey team, give the Philippines examples of budget documentation, especially of your citizens’ budget, very often [in presentations to other countries], and there are some really clear and simple measures to be taken that I’m sure would put the Philippines back in the top 10 performers. I am optimistic here,” Hasan said.
She further highlighted the joint congressional review committee formed during the pandemic as one of the Philippines’ initiatives for budget accountability reforms.
“This is an example of how we shared best practices from amongst countries and we also encouraged all countries to usher in a race to the top by disclosing more and more information, especially around debt and financial risk and make these accountability reforms permanent,” Hasan explained.
La Salle Institute of Governance Senior Fellow and Professor Francisco Magno, who serves as the OBS independent expert for the Philippines, presented the survey results and discussed that the OBS provides data and information to the public regarding the budget processes.
“It [OBS] indicates where we are currently when it comes to the availability of information, the timeliness of its publication, and the content, especially the budget; it’s a public document, it’s people’s money, how it is used, and how it can be an important resource for enabling us to achieve our policy goals.”
He also explained the importance of digitalization for budget transparency.
“The gold standard nowadays for effective budget transparency is digitalization, providing information on public websites, the timeliness of the information, and the comprehensiveness of the content, including the eight key budget documents,” Professor Magno said.
While the Philippines’ budget transparency score remains at a sufficient level, experts and government officials still see the need to improve budget mechanisms to develop public access and open government further.
DBM Assistant Secretary Rolando Toledo stressed the Department’s careful analysis and response to OBS indicators in increasing the transparency of budget documents.
“Currently the budget documents produced by the DBM are now published and it is assured that we have a higher score compared to the next cycle. Improvements of the score of the key budget documents under the DBM based on some IBP’s recommendations are also included in the documents,” he added.
Stratbase ADR Institute President Prof. Victor Andres Manhit also expressed support for DBM’s initiatives. He said that with digitization and e-government, there would be more responsive public expenditure programs for the Filipino people. He also highlighted that the Philippine governance culture is lacking accountability.
“Good policy choices on the continuing pandemic, rising inflation, food security and energy, job creation, poverty reduction, even public-private partnerships, will be the barometer of accountability moving forward for this administration,” he explained.
Manhit also stressed the demand of stakeholders for institutions of government to be more transparent, accountable, and responsive.
“What we want are institutions of government to become more transparent, accountable, and responsive in delivering public services in terms of managing the public sector also,” Manhit said.
Moreover, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) President George Barcelon believes budget transparency is critical for policy advocacy and development outcomes for policy stakeholders.
“Every local government official should take it upon themselves that people may not be complaining, but they have to look at their systems, and the quality of the process must be reviewed. And if they can reduce the time in helping the private sector and establishments file their papers, that would be a big help. These are all part of what I might say, the need for us to make ourselves attractive to foreign direct investments,” He further explained.
Barcelon also emphasized the presence of KPIs in budget processes.
“We have to do our homework; we have to make our country attractive, and it boils down to the whole government. systems. Relying on an open budget, and budget that is effective. The budget is just numbers, but without any KPI, it means nothing. For any budget to make sense, you got to have KPI.”
The OBS evaluated three components of open budgeting: budget transparency, or the Open Budget Index (OBI), public participation, and budget oversight. The survey is grounded on a thorough and objective methodology that has been examined by independent experts. The results are based on a 228-question questionnaire completed by researchers normally located in the country being studied. A government representative and an independent expert review each country’s draft survey questionnaire.
More than 300 participants from Zoom and Facebook live streams attended. Esteemed guests primarily from the Department of Budget and Management, Senate Committee on Science and Technology, Senate Economic Planning Office, House of Representatives, Philippine Institute of Development Studies, civil society organizations, the academe, and media partners participated in the event as well.
The 2021 OBS Forum was organized by the La Salle Institute of Governance, in partnership with Stratbase ADR Institute, and International Budget Partnership (IBP).