Big win for accountability in aid transparency

On Wednesday in Paris, a group of international donors agreed to a new standard for publishing their aid flows, in a common language and format, to make the information easier to access and compare. Although this may not seem particularly exciting at the outset, it is a huge victory in terms of making aid to developing countries more effective and more accountable.

The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI)—which is a coalition of donor countries and multilateral organizations, recipient countries, and civil society organizations—aims to improve and increase transparent reporting on aid flows and activities. At present, individual donors largely decide themselves what and how much information they want to make public regarding money they spend on international development. What they do publish isn’t always easily comparable to what other donors make available, and that makes it very difficult to track aid flows at the international level, or even within specific recipient countries. With IATI’s help, and with the new standard developed by their steering committee on Wednesday, more and more donors will be encouraged to publish their information in a common format on their registry.

At ONE’s sister organization, Publish What You Fund, Director Karin Christiansen has been working with IATI to push for greater transparency among donors in the international system. Following the developments, she noted:

For the first time, a standard exists which means more aid information will actually be better aid information. And that is what we need to make aid transparent; not only to other governments, and aid agencies, but to the public in all of our countries too.”

Not only will governments be more accountable to their citizens and those they are helping in developing countries, but they will also be better able to coordinate their giving with other governments, which can lead to better planning, more efficient use of resources, and the opportunity to make a bigger impact.

So while IATI has done the hard work of laying the foundation, the even harder job remains still in getting donor governments to sign on to the initiative, publish their information in the registry, or at the very least adhere to the common principles of making aid information more public and in a more timely fashion. Currently there are 18 donors who have signed on to the IATI Accra Statement and are committed to its principles, and the UK Department for International Development (which is also part of IATI’s Secretariat) is the first donor to publish its information in the registry. Numerous recipient countries have also come out in support of the initiative. But for it to really be effective, IATI needs to garner much broader cooperation from the donor community. Only 3 of the G8 members have signed on (in fact, countries like Italy and Japan that are not part of IATI have ranked as some of the worst countries in terms of transparency), not to mention the tens of other large bilateral donors, multilateral donors, and emerging donors who have also yet to agree to the standards. The United States (who spends the biggest amount of money on foreign aid) has not formally signed on to IATI’s statement; although they have moved towards greater adherence to transparency principles, such as the recent release of the new USAID dashboard that publishes US foreign assistance flows in an accessible format.

When governments are more transparent, everyone wins. So let’s keep encouraging our governments to be more forthcoming with how our taxes are being spent so we can hold them accountable for investments they are making to help those in developing countries. Making this information available can also help the citizens of developing countries know how much their governments are receiving and so they can push for it to be spent it in ways that really meet their needs.