South Africa ranks second out of 100 countries for the transparency and accountability of its budget processes, according to the latest Open Budget Index Survey by the Washington-based International Budget Partnership.
South Africa scored 90 points out of a possible 100 points in the Open Budget Index report of 2012, standing out as one of only six countries worldwide that releases extensive budget information to the legislature and the public in general.
The African democracy institute, Idasa, works in partnership with the International Budget Partnership on the Open Budget Index. Produced by independent experts, it is the only independent, comparative and regular measure of budget transparency and accountability in the world.
Encouraging citizen participation
The National Treasury said on Monday that it strived to constantly improve public finance management processes to ensure that there was a clear understanding of how public funds were used.
"The Open Budget Index Survey is a welcome review of our budgeting processes. This respected international assessment encourages South Africans - parliamentarians, the media, civil society and the general public - to use the information published in the budget documents more often and more effectively," the Treasury said in a statement.
The survey, which was started in 2006, is conducted every two years to measure how well governments around the world ensure that budget information is publicly available, thereby encouraging citizen participation in the national budget process.
In 2012, South Africa came second, with New Zealand taking the top spot in the index that analysed 100 countries worldwide. The United Kingdom came third, Sweden fourth and Norway fifth.
In the last edition of the index, in 2010, South Africa achieved top honours.
"South Africa continues to do well because of the strong foundation provided by the National Treasury, the government's determination to continue with their budget reform programmes, and a realisation that open budgets are a necessary condition for our vibrant democracy," said Russell Wildeman, the lead researcher on the project at Idasa.
Wildeman noted that external reviewers had raised concerns about the quality of the country's non-financial information and the consistency with which the Auditor-General's recommendations were addressed.
He said the results should not be viewed in a negative light, seeing that South Africa was a world leader in budget transparency and openness. Instead, he said, weaknesses needed to be addressed.
An area where South Africa had significant room for improvement was in the public's overall participation in the budget process.
One of the researchers on the survey, Thembinkosi Dlamini, noted that poor levels of public participation should not necessarily be attributed to actions taken by the government.
"It is a well-known fact that the pace of budget reform in the 1990s and continuing into the 2000s has outstripped the ability of ordinary citizens and citizen groups to make a meaningful input into the budget and budget processes," said Dlamini.
The index, now in its fourth edition, bemoans the general lack of budget transparency globally, describing the situation as "dismal".
It further notes that gradual changes are taking place, but the pace at which this happens means that only the next generation of citizens are likely to reap the full benefits of open budgets and budget processes.
"The National Treasury will continue to improve on our budgeting processes so that we achieve a top ranking again ... Importantly, we aim to ensure that the information made available to the public continues to be comprehensive and enables the public to assess government's achievements and accountability," it said.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan will deliver the 2013 Budget to Parliament at 2pm on 27 February.