In November 2008, Bahraini opposition politician Ebrahim Sharif was invited to a talk show on state television to discuss state finances. Sharif used the opportunity to point out several financial irregularities, including the fact that since 2003 the royal family’s exorbitant privy purse have been hidden from the state budget. The following day, information minister Jihad Bu Kamal was sacked from his position, reportedly for allowing criticism of the royal family to be aired on television.
This is just one example of how threatened the government in Bahrain — and elsewhere — is by any public scrutiny of activities, especially when it comes to shining a light on the hugely inequitable distribution of wealth in the country. Back in 2006, the government blocked Google Earth because it allowed citizens to see the opulence of the royal family’s vast palaces directly adjacent to the overpopulated settlements for everyone else.
Bahrain Watch member Marc Owen Jones has shown that between 1925 and 1970, roughly a quarter of the state’s total revenue was transferred to the Al Khalifa royal family’s privy purse. One of the biggest obstacles towards social justice generally, and in Bahrain and the Gulf states especially, are the limits on access to information related to state activities. Without knowing what exactly the government is doing with public resources, it becomes difficult to assess whether the public are getting a good deal or are being exploited.
Today Bahrain Watch is launching a project to make it easier for the public to access Bahraini government data. We are starting with a repository of state budget data for the past 20 years. This data is already available to the public through the government Legal Affairs website, however it is in the form of scanned PDFs or HTML, making it painstaking for someone to analyse or visualise the numbers. So, we have converted the datasets into ODS spreadsheets as well as raw CSV (comma separated values), to make it quick and easy to perform calculations on it or represent it visually.
The repository is a work in progress, and gradually, we hope to expand the budget data further back in time, as well as add other important government datasets of public interest. If you spot any mistakes, or want to contribute some data, or have used the data to make something interesting, please do get in touch!