What Do Scandals in Brazil and South Africa Tell Us About the Link Between Transparency and Corruption?

There's a comment we have heard many times after the results of the Open Budget Survey are published. It goes something like this: How can countries where corruption is rife score so well on your budget transparency index? Surely there must be something wrong with it…” Proponents typically point to countries like Uganda, Malawi, South Africa, and Brazil, which have seen their scores for transparency improve substantially or remain high over the years while making headlines for corruption scandals.

Shouldn’t corruption be lower in more transparent countries? In reality things are more complicated. Transparency, it seems, is a necessary but long from sufficient condition for successfully addressing the problem of corruption.

Without budget information it would be almost impossible for people outside government to spot and denounce cases of mismanagement and corruption. That’s why countries lacking transparency also tend to perform poorly on corruption indicators and, more generally, governance-related ones. As our research has shown, governments have a variety of motives for disclosing fiscal information that have little to do with the fight against corruption. And, for transparency to help tackle it, a number of additional factors need to be in place — from an active civil society, to an independent media, to effective oversight and accountability institutions.

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