Budget Transparency Still Needs Improving

9:19:52 AM | 6/25/2021

The Provincial Open Budget Index (POBI) is an annual survey of the budget opening of 63 provinces and cities in Vietnam. According to the newly released POBI 2020, the average score reached 69.09 points on a 100-point scale, an increase of 3.54 points from the 2019 performance.

Dr. Nguyen Duc Thanh, representative of the research team, said, the POBI base score (2017, the first year) was generally very low, averagely just 30 points. This meant that almost no province was interested in budgetary transparency and compliance in the spirit of the Budget Law of 2015. However, in the following years, strong improvements were seen when localities realized their rankings and the national average POBI score rose to 50 (in 2018) and further advanced to 65 points in 2019. It showed that provinces became conscious of improving their budget transparency in the spirit of the Law on Budget and in line with general social development.

However, POBI score improvements showed signs of slowing down in 2020 - the fourth year of ranking, he said. Positively, many lowly-ranked provinces considerably increased their scores in 2020 while good performers still fared very well.

According to the survey, 27 provinces fully disclosed budget documents and information, three more localities than in 2019. 29 provinces disclosed relatively enough, two more provinces than in 2019. Five provinces did not disclose enough, down four localities, and two provinces disclosed very little, down by one locality from the 2019 edition.

With 93.68 points, Vinh Long tops the 2020 rankings, followed by Da Nang city (92.26 points) and southern Ba Ria-Vung Tau province (90.45 points). The worst performers are Binh Phuoc province (3.84 points) and Dak Lak province (23.41 points). Lang Son province climbed to No. 16 in the rankings from the bottom place in 2019 after gaining 82.3 points.

2020 is also the first year of a survey on the continuity of publicly available documents. The results found that 49 provinces, accounting for 77.78% of the total, publicized budget estimates that were submitted to the Provincial People’s Council for three straight years, 52 provinces (82.54%) publicized budget estimates that were approved by the Provincial People’s Council for three straight years and 51 provinces (80.95%) disclosed budget spending that was approved by the Provincial People’s Council for three straight years.

The POBI 2020 rankings show a great improvement in ease of use when all provinces and cities have a budget publicity folder and most documents are published in Word/Excel or PDF format for ease of use and conversion.

However, POBI 2020 also shows that provinces still need to work further for better budget transparency and accessibility to the public.

Dr. Nguyen Quoc Viet, Deputy Director of the Vietnam Institute for Economic and Policy Research (VEPR), said the survey is of great significance in creating a system of practices for all levels of budget management in Vietnam to move towards international practices in public spending, based on four pillars of modern budget management: transparency, accountability, predictability, and citizen participation. POBI assessment, scoring and ranking are necessary and useful for readers to view the overall picture of the whole country of publicity and accountability of governmental agencies in carrying out budgetary stages.

The survey was conducted independently by two member organizations of the Budget Transparency, Accountability and Participation (BTAP) Alliance - the Center for Development and Integration (CDI) and the Vietnam Institute for Economic and Policy Research (VEPR) - since 2017. The survey results are a useful tool for localities and central agencies to refer to and measure budgetary publicity and transparency. POBI is also a tool to support Vietnam to implement better administrative and fiscal reforms, amd achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 on transparency, accountability and citizen participation. The POBI 2020 survey was conducted with the support of Oxfam Vietnam and the KAS Institute in Vietnam.

By Quynh Anh, Vietnam Business Forum