Open data has an important role to play in bolstering the relationship between citizens and governments Opening up data—in particular, public finance data such as those relating to budgets, public revenues, expenditures and debt —can have tremendous effect in improving service delivery, creating more transparent and accountable governments, and fostering economic growth.
The concept of fiscal openness was built into the Mongolian laws and regulations through specific provisions for budget transparency and citizen engagement in budget, audit, and legislative processes. Concerted efforts, mostly led by the Ministry of Finance (MoF), helped bring the hefty transparency agenda down to people’s daily lives. This was done by providing timely access to comprehensive fiscal and financial data through different channels and formats.
These efforts have started showing concrete results as confirmed by the latest Open Budget Survey (OBS), the world’s only independent and comparative measure of the three core components of budget accountability — transparency, participation, and oversight — at the central government level. In the last two years, Mongolia’s score in Open Budget Index (OBI), based upon credible survey data, increased by over 20% from 46 in the 2017 to 56 in 2019 (on a scale of 100) — a significant improvement that governments could not usually achieve during one OBS assessment period.
“Improving budget transparency and enhancing public participation plays a crucial role in building a strong partnership between the government and the people,” said Ch. Khurelbaatar, H. E. Minister of Finance of Mongolia. “Accordingly, the government of Mongolia has committed itself to ensure that citizens have open and convenient access to the budget information. We at the MoF are delighted with the latest progress made and would like to affirm that a continued effort will be made for further enhancement.”
This jump can be attributed in part to Mongolia’s timely online publication of the Year-End Report and the Pre-Budget Statement. The release of the enacted budget and the production of the Citizen’s Budget booklets also helped improve the score. The booklets are released at the time of the budget proposal presentation to the Parliament, and they have provided key budget data to the public in a user-friendly way since 2018.
Blazing the transparency and participation road
Fiscal transparency is more crucial now more than ever, as countries face the devastating COVID-19 effects that have increased the need for governments to play a lead role in emergency response and economic recovery. Citizens and taxpayers need not only to understand the emergency measures taken by the government, but also how resources are raised and allocated, and why certain seemingly difficult policy measures need to be in place to address the pandemic’s impact.
To ensure that all citizens have access to the information on how public resources are raised and spent, the MoF is working with the European Union (EU) and the World Bank on the Strengthening Governance in Mongolia project. In partnership with the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT), the project is helping the country translate existing principles and standards on budget openness into better practices. Ongoing efforts including preparation of the Citizen’s Budgets, revamping of the Glass Account Portal, development of the BOOST Platform, and workshops with the civil society are all helping the country advance in budget transparency and citizen participation.
“Access to budget information and clear budget processes has the potential to empower citizens on their endeavor to improving their lives. Budget transparency is closely linked with better socio-economic and human development indicators, higher competitiveness and reduced corruption,” said Traian Hristea, H.E. The European Union Ambassador to Mongolia. “The EU’s support together in good partnership with World Bank and the Ministry of Finance in improving transparency and accountability in the budget process also reflects broader commitments to good governance and anti-corruption reforms.”
“Access to budgetary information is crucial for evaluating the government’s performance and ensuring governmental activities and programs are in the best interest of the citizens, especially during the challenging times of COVID-19,” said Andrei Mikhnev, World Bank Country Manager for Mongolia. “The World Bank is pleased to partner with the European Union and the government of Mongolia to enhance budget transparency and public participation in efforts to address people’s needs and improve their lives.”
Looking toward a more transparent future
Despite the progress so far, more work lies ahead for Mongolia to achieve the level of fiscal transparency it has envisioned. With an OBI score of 56, Mongolia is only five points away to join more advanced countries that release substantial information (a score of 61 or higher). To get there, the country can act immediately on a number of next steps, including:
“We at GIFT would be pleased to see Mongolia, as a partner of the network, accelerate and sustain the current progress by institutionalizing budget transparency and participation practices, and investing in building institutional and citizens’ capacity to demand and support open budgeting reforms,“ said Juan Pablo Guerrero, Network Director, Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency.
The future is open, and so is the government’s vision for the country. Collaboration, commitment, and partnership among all stakeholders is the only way forward toward a more open future. Mongolia has all the requirements in place to achieve its ambitious yet attainable targets of budget openness and participation within the next period of the OBS.