Sunday, February 13, 2011

Aid transparency

OK, time to crank up the blog again, after some time away focusing on other stuff. I've gathered up a bunch of stuff over the past month or so, so upcoming posts may occasionally not be à la minute.

First up, the promising new aid transparency blog Full Disclosure, run by Devex, "the largest provider of recruiting and business development services to the international development community," briefly commented on the new IATI global standard for publishing aid information, under the title "The Revolution Begins." Claudia Elliot notes that the new standard (finalized on Feb. 9th) makes it possible for donors to share information on the aid they provide, and recipients can get a better sense of the aid they are getting.

Increased aid transparency is an excellent idea, and is crucial for increasing accountability. But it is hardly the case that no aid information has been available until now. The OECD's Development Assistance Committee (DAC) has promulgated aggregate aid statistics for decades now, and its online statistics are invaluable. Superb project-level aid information is available at AidData, a more recent initiative of Development Gateway, the College of William & Mary, and Brigham Young University..

One hopes that this new IATI standard will make a real difference. But I'd hesitate to call it the beginning of a revolution. After all, for a new transparency standard to make a big difference, at least one of two things must be true:

1. Governments have wanted greater transparency than was available through DAC and/or AidData but have been unable to get it until now
2. Publics have wanted greater transparency in order to hold their governments accountable, but their governments have withheld that information from them until now.

It is not obvious that either or both of these conditions hold. Indeed, most historical evidence suggests that they do not. Governments have paid lip service to the importance of aid coordination for a long time, without ever doing much about it. And for decades, governments have gotten good PR out of promising to meet certain aid targets — as specified in the Millennium Development Goals, for example – without actually intending to do so. They may thus have an interest in less than full disclosure, and publics have not historically clamored for more specific information about aid programs.

For a revolution to begin, publics must become both more interested in and better informed about aid policy and projects. Until then, Elliot inadvertently points to one of the things governments may (ab-)use aid information for: "to compliment each others' efforts". I suspect she means "complement", but it is undeniably true that one reason for governments to supply aid is the reputational benefits this may provide Since such benefits won't follow until a government's generosity is widely known, governments will be happy to supply transparent information on the efforts they are most proud of.

No comments:

Post a Comment