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Pushing ahead with aid transparency - a great step forward

At his recent speech at the Royal Society, UK Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, representing the new coalition government, made a significant step forward in the push for greater aid transparency by announcing a commitment to put in place a UK Aid Transparency Guarantee.

This Guarantee lays out a number of explicit areas where government policy on aid spending and delivery will change from a culture of publishing upon request as a minimum requirement of the freedom of information act, to publishing as a default. It also mentions the importance of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), a key process following on from the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action (AAA), working to develop technical mechanisms for operationalising aid effectiveness principles based on an international standard and code of conduct for the publication of aid information.

ODI has a strong interest in both budget and aid transparency. A recent letter to the Secretary of State for International Development from ODI Director Alison Evans strongly defends the need for substantiating aid transparency and accountability between donors, recipients and their respective taxpayers. ODI has provided technical support to the IATI technical advisory group in developing the framework for a standard format of information about aid that is currently undergoing rounds of consultation. A number of stakeholders in this process have provided think pieces and contributions on how to further operationalise the aid effectiveness agenda, including ODI, Owen Barder and Aid Info, and Publish What You Fund, among others.

The high level political support and demand for transparency of aid related information is an energising force to push the agenda. But the key issues that remain are how to make the guarantee operational and the transparent publication of aid useful not only for UK taxpayers, but also for the countries and beneficiaries receiving aid. The technical and legal side of publishing aid information has proven to be a complex issue. Technically, the task of drawing information from donors in formats that are useable by the myriad of stakeholders is massive. Legally, issues of disclosure of public information require a step change of ‘publish as a default’, which is key in the battle for transparency.

Making aid information useful for all stakeholders – and recipient countries in particular – requires a committed effort from donors to ensure that aid information is compatible with the planning and budgeting structures in recipient countries. Research into these areas is relatively new, but papers about bringing aid on budget from Mokoro, Publish What You Fund and forthcoming from ODI are beginning to fuel this debate.

I am excited about the increased political interest and commitment to aid transparency. Continuing this high level pressure is important. We must ensure that the process takes into account all stakeholder requirements in the context of the aid effectiveness principles – above all, greater  commitment to making aid transparency work at the recipient country level, supporting recipient country governments in development planning and service delivery.