CSOs move forward on transparency
Civil society organisations held their Global Assembly on Development Effectiveness in Istanbul at the end of September to prepare for the next High Level Forum (HLF) on aid effectiveness to be held in Busan, South Korea, in November 2011. The concrete outcome was a set of eight principles for development effectiveness. It is a comprehensive and all embracing list setting out very concisely a whole approach to development and therefore much wider in scope than the issues which governments will be discussing when they meet in Busan to look at the progress they have made on aid effectiveness.
We are pleased that CSOs addressed the issue of their own transparency. Principle 5 declares “CSOs are effective as development actors when they demonstrate a sustained organizational commitment to transparency, multiple accountability, and integrity in their internal operations.”
Multiple accountability implies much more than mere transparency. Most CSOs have not gone beyond making sure that they themselves are transparent, for example, by putting their annual accounts, lists of projects and some evaluations on line. While this may satisfy their own supporters and donors, it is of limited use to developing country stakeholders who are generally more interested in having a complete picture of what all donors – official and non-governmental – are doing in their country, region or sector. At present such information from CSOs can be gathered only by visits to individual CSO websites, and even then it will not give a full or timely picture.
The International Aid Transparency Initiative, launched at the Accra HLF two years ago, aims to put comprehensive information in the hands of developing country stakeholders by allowing donors to register information on their support for programmes and projects with uniform definitions and in compatible format so that it can be aggregated; answering the question, what are all donors doing? – and disaggregated: focusing on what are they doing in a specific area (northern Uganda, say) or sector, such as water and sanitation.
CSOs are already active in IATI as advocates for greater transparency by official donors. It is time for CSOs to get behind IATI, as participants, contributing their own ideas, needs and perspectives and as demonstrators of good practice. Taken together northern CSOs have enormous weight – the annual expenditure of the top 20 development NGOs in the UK, for instance, is about £1.5 billion – this is more than the ODA of Austria, Finland or Switzerland, and nearly as much as the ODA of Belgium or Australia. And if they want to push governments in the direction of greater transparency – transparency for their partners in developing countries – then they will need to practise what they preach.
NGOs may also find that those donors who are setting the pace in IATI, including the DFID, will soon be asking NGOs who have funding agreements with them, to adopt IATI standards. It would be a good move to anticipate this by joining IATI and helping to shape those standards.