The benefits of open and accountable government are a longstanding focus of advocates of fiscal transparency. Fiscal accountability enables governments to ensure that public resources reach their targeted beneficiaries and achieve their intended policy outcomes. Government commitment to fiscal openness and accountability acquired renewed significance with the onset of COVID-19 and the introduction of related emergency fiscal policy packages.
In May 2021, the International Budget Partnership (IBP) published a rapidly executed assessment of transparency and accountability arrangements in the fiscal policy responses implemented in 120 countries in response to the pandemic. IBP’s report was important given preexisting concerns with growing inequality, weakening democracy, and the universal demand for efficient and equitable handling of public resources when the crisis hit.
With more than two-thirds of the governments assessed providing limited levels of accountability in the implementation of early COVID-19 fiscal responses, the overall findings of IBP’s report, “Managing COVID Funds: The Accountability Gap,” were bleak. However, the assessment also unearthed examples of good practices that can – and should – be showcased to enable governments to learn how to better manage public resources in times of emergency. The message from the report was clear: When a crisis hits, no one government agency has all the answers. It takes all hands on deck to formulate an effective response and a resilient, inclusive recovery. The good practices in the report highlight the benefits that engagement from the accountability ecosystem can bring.
This paper draws on the findings of 15 case studies of COVID-19-related fiscal policy responses from around the world that were documented by IBP after it published its report in May 2021: Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, Chile, Ecuador, Indonesia, Jamaica, Malaysia, Nepal, Paraguay, Philippines, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Togo and the United Kingdom. These cases were chosen based on the findings from the rapid assessment, and they showcase various types of good-practice responses that illustrate how governments can achieve speedy policy responses without undermining accountability. The paper offers lessons to governments, oversight bodies (legislatures and supreme audit institutions) and other external stakeholders in fiscal accountability (including development agencies and civil society organizations) on emergent good practices in ensuring fiscal transparency, citizen engagement and effective oversight during crises. IBP recognizes that different contextual and institutional factors will determine how and why governments adopt lessons from good practices. For this reason, the paper focuses on identifying crosslearning themes that governments can emulate, while at the same time recognizing the constraints on replicating and adapting some of the lessons.