We’re No. 7! We’re No. 7!

I want a big foam finger.

Fabled Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis once said, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” If that is in fact the case, then the world as a whole is a pretty grimy place, according to the latest edition of the Open Budget Survey.

The biennial report, published by the International Budget Partnership, tracks government spending transparency across the globe. Of the 100 countries assessed in the survey, 77 “fail to meet basic standards of budget transparency,” with the average score a lowly 43 out of 100 points…

the U.S. comes in seventh in the Open Budget Survey’s rankings. As the Washington Post’s Wonkblog explains, “overall, the document is a pretty strong vote of confidence in the federal government’s transparency efforts.”The Wonkblog goes on to say that the U.S. gets knocked down for its lack of a pre-budget statement, lack of details in reviews of prior expenditures and, most importantly, a total lack of a “citizens budget,” which the IBP explains as being “accessible, nontechnical presentations of budget information.”

The U.S. and its neighbors scored well overall, as the Guardian explains, with western Europe and the U.S. averaging75 out of 100 points, while the Middle East and North Africa managed to average just 18 out of 100 points. In a race to the bottom, Qatar, Myanmar and Equatorial Guinea rank dead last.

The IBP gathers its data through a series of 125 questions answered by independent researchers in 100 countries, which account for a population of 6.1 billion, or 89 percent of the world’s population in 2010. And while the survey paints a rather dismal portrait of government transparency in general, IBP states that the study has seen “steady, albeit incremental, progress over the four rounds of the survey since 2006,” with the average score of 40 countries with comparable data sets jumping from 47 out of 100 when the survey began up to 57 out of 100 in 2012.

An interesting take on transparency in China…

Media reports of the worst air pollution ever recorded in China’s capital Beijing, over the weekend of January 12-13 2013, have added urgency to a question that shadows China’s economic rise: how will the evolving Chinese state balance economic growth with increasing social pressure for better environmental management?

Yeling Tan offers clues to possible answers in her article  “Transparency without Democracy: The Unexpected Effects of China’s Environmental Disclosure Policy,” recently published by Governance. Conventional wisdom, said Tan in an interview, “is that transparency, accountability and democracy all move in the same direction.”

Her article re-examines the relationship among these concepts in the non-democratic context of contemporary China, and highlights some unexpected routes to improved outcomes, like pressure from multinational corporations (MNCs) that now use pollution data to monitor their Chinese suppliers.

“Information disclosure by itself won’t automatically lead to change,” said Tan, a doctoral candidate in the public policy program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In the article she analyzes the complex pathways through which the Chinese government’s 2008 Open Environmental Information (OEI) measures have impacted stakeholders such as citizens, businesses, and non-government organizations (NGOs) and MNCs.

Tan’s research for the article included three trips to China from 2009-2011, during which she interviewed academics, government officials, representatives of environmental NGOs and journalists to build a detailed picture of how the OEI regulations are being implemented in various cities and townships.