G8 accountability report: Read the small print

We have another new face on the ONE Blog, Friederike Röder. She is ONE France’s new policy manager and we are very excited to have her on board. Say hi in the comments below!

Following the tradition started last year at the G8 in Canada, this year’s French presidency prepared an accountability report together with the other G8 countries, which outlines the state of delivery and results of the G8’s commitments on fighting extreme poverty.

Let’s start with the positives: it is commendable that the G8 continues with preparing such reports. Great promises are one thing, but keeping them and proving to have kept them is equally important. This is exactly what ONE has been saying for years (and showing the example for) with the DATA report.

It is also good to draw attention to the commitments on food security and maternal health, the focus of this year’s report. The report has the merit of establishing a baseline for the different commitments, reporting back on disbursements already made and giving a time line for outstanding disbursements. So far, so good. But…

There is a massive “but”. The G8 have found an artful way to embellish their performance. The report puts the spotlight on figures in today’s prices and tracks progress against them. It is a major issue, because current prices cannot be compared properly across years. This is why the OECD recommends using constant prices, prices that take into account changes in exchange rates and inflation from year to year and give an honest picture of the real efforts that were made. To put it simply $1 in 2010 doesn’t buy as much as $1 in 2005.

The result of tracking progress in current prices? Forgetting inflation suddenly makes the G8 look much better than it really is. Gleneagles’ targets are missed, but only by a “little” $1.27 billion. Great success. Pat on the back. Except that taking inflation into account shows a very different picture. The G8 shortfall is in fact $19 billion!

Careful readers will notice that the report also mentions the $19 billion shortfall. Very careful readers, in fact. The figure is dropped in passing, immersed in a sea of data and tables all in current prices. Predictably, it is a blessing for countries that haven’t performed well and can conveniently quote the report to avoid facing their failure. Take Germany. The Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development issued a press release yesterday, which selectively quotes the report to give itself a pass, when Germany’s under performance is in reality costing $4 billion to the developing world.

As ONE’s Executive Director, Jamie Drummond, said yesterday:

“We cannot allow countries who are breaking promises to the world’s poor to hide behind misleading figures. When the G8 leaders gather in France next week they must acknowledge that accountability is more than just a PR exercise.”

This year’s G8 meeting on Africa (with the African Union and founding members of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development – NEPAD) will also examine the first accountability report prepared by the African side. We can only hope that Africa will have the courage to look shortfalls in the eyes.