Why is transparency about public expenditure so elusive?

David Heald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Citations (Scopus)


Fiscal transparency is fundamentally important but difficult to achieve. The conceptualization of transparency has to be more sophisticated than current rhetoric implies. Analytical tools relating to the generic concept of transparency can be applied to public expenditure. Achieving transparency about public expenditure presents challenges that require explicit strategies in the context of what can be very different sets of local conditions. This article identifies the specific meaning of transparency about public expenditure, defined in terms of the four directions of transparency: inwards, outwards, upwards and downwards. It identifies barriers to the effective transparency of public expenditure, characterizing these as intrinsic or constructed. Tackling
these barriers, especially those constructed by policy actors, constitutes a route
towards more effective transparency, not only about public expenditure itself but
about surrogates for it. It is not just quantity that matters: different varieties of transparency will have differential effects on the achievement of public policy objectives. How transparency mechanisms are structured will therefore shape their impact on public policy – on efficiency, on equity and on democratic accountability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-49
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Review of Administrative Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012


  • barriers to transparency
  • directions of transparency
  • fiscal transparency
  • good governance
  • public accountability
  • public expenditure management
  • varieties of transparency


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