The aid transparency campaign sits at the intersection of two new powerful social and political movements.
On the one hand, there is a growing call for greater accountability of aid agencies. This comes from the understanding that development aid is handicapped by the lack of effective feedback from those receiving it. Organisations and governments are most effective when they can be held accountable to those they serve, in this instance, communities receiving aid.
On the other hand, there is a growing movement for open government data in industrialised countries. As technologies have changed, it is cheaper for governments to make data accessible to the public. This means that the long-standing issue of having too much data in unusable formats is now less problematic.
We are now at the stage where organisations and individuals can select data appropriate to a specific group of users and mix it up with information from other sources. This allows them to present it in more meaningful and relevant formats. In this way, information has the potential to be far more useful than it has been in the past.
Who wants aid transparency and why?
There are many different groups who are working towards greater aid transparency. Coming from a variety of backgrounds, they are united in their aim to fight poverty by making aid more transparent.
Among these groups are:
- Parliamentarians, civil society organisations and citizens in developing countries, who want to hold to account their government and other people delivering services.
- NGOs in industrialised countries, who want to make sure that donors are keeping their promises and using aid well.
- Anti-corruption campaigners, who believe that transparency will increase the amount of aid received by aid beneficiaries, due to less funds being diverted away from them.
- Advocates for freedom of information, who argue that taxpayers have the right to know exactly how their money is being spent.
- Taxpayers, who increasingly want to know how their money is spent. They want to see the information behind the stories told to them by the state.
- Finance Ministries in developing countries, who want to plan their budgets better.
- Line ministries, who want to plan their activities with the knowledge of what money is available and in line with what other people will be doing.
- Academics, who want to study the effects of aid, and point towards how it can be improved.
- Firms and NGOs that deliver services, who want better information to plan new investments.
- Donors themselves, because they want better information about each other’s activities. This can reduce duplication and improve synergies, as well as reducing the growing burden of reporting on an ad hoc basis, whenever they are asked.
How does aid transparency fit into the aid effectiveness movement?
The aid transparency movement builds on a long process to improve the effectiveness of official aid. This began with the High Level Forum on Harmonisation in 2003, and took a big step forward with the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness in 2005.
Over one hundred Ministers and senior officials from governments and donor organisations committed themselves to this international agreement. Its main aims were to increase control that recipient countries have over the aid they receive and to manage aid in a way that focuses on its achievements.
The Accra Agenda for Action in 2008 built on the Paris Declaration by emphasising the importance of country ownership and accountability. The Accra Agenda says that greater transparency and accountability for aid — domestic as well as external — is a firm step towards better aid. In Accra, the signatories made the following commitment:
“We will make aid more transparent. Developing countries will facilitate parliamentary oversight by implementing greater transparency in public financial management, including public disclosure of revenues, budgets, expenditures, procurement and audits. Donors will publicly disclose regular, detailed and timely information on volume, allocation and, when available, results of development expenditure to enable more accurate budget, accounting and audit by developing countries.”
One group of donors and developing countries went further than the main declaration by committing themselves to the International Aid Transparency Initiative. This declaration added specific commitments by these donors, outlining how they would implement the transparency goals set out in the Accra Agenda for Action.