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Transparency: not just a tool to tackle corruption

At yesterday’s UN General Assembly, countries participating in the new Open Government Partnership announced their commitments on transparency, accountability, and citizen’s participation. The Open Government Partnership initiative aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.


It’s an excellent initiative, in which the UK is leading by example. As part of the UK’s Aid Transparency Guarantee, the Department for International Development (DFID) will publish information on all of its aid projects over £500. Information will be published in line with the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standards, which the UK has been subscribing to since February 2011.   



Fighting corruption

Yesterday, Cabinet Minister Francis Maude made a speech at the launch of the Open Government Partnership, highlighting the UK’s plan. He said transparency conditions will be attached to the UK’s £8.4 billion foreign aid budget, helping to “fight corruption following criticism of poor transparency in a number of aid-receiving nations.”  


Holding donors to account

Save the Children welcomes Minister Maude’s announcements. However, we think it’s vital that transparency is not just seen as a mechanism for tackling corruption in countries receiving aid. In 2010 reported incidences of financial fraud only affected a very small percentage of UK aid – approximately 0.01% of spend.


Crucially, aid transparency is also about holding donors to account on the quality and transparency of their aid flows. If developing countries don’t know what their donors are doing then their planning and budgeting processes are undermined.


The UK’s transparency efforts need to be seen as part of a wider commitment – a commitment to improve the quality of aid; the sustainability of development results; and the UK’s accountability to tax-payers, recipient governments and citizens who use the services that aid supports.


Broad benefits

By being transparent and encouraging others to follow suit the UK is helping:

         aid recipient governments to plan their national development effectively, as they’ll know what donor resources have been committed and when they will be disbursed (this kind of predictability is vitally important for governments to finance recurrent expenditures like health worker salaries

         the whole aid community to identify funding gaps and prevent unnecessary concentrations of aid in certain regions or sectors,

        aid recipients, citizens and civil society organisations to monitor how money is being spent, where it’s being spent and whether it’s responding to local problems,

        UK tax-payers to see where their money is going and to provide feedback to improve DFID’s performance.



Championing transparency

In the months ahead, particularly at the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, taking place in Busan, South Korea (29 November – 1 December), the UK should champion transparency as one part of a broader accountability drive. Ensuring strong ‘mutual’ accountability of the whole aid architecture means developing the tools for:

  • taxpayers to monitor their government’s aid commitments
  • recipient governments (partner countries) to hold their donors to account
  • beneficiaries of aid to engage in development planning and prioritisation and to have a voice in their own development processes, leading to aid being spent in ways which improve their situation and helps realise their rights.



Save the Children’s position paper for the Fourth High Level Forum will soon be available on this site. For further information on our plans for the HLF4 please contact me at j.espey@savethechildren.org.uk

 If you believe in the benefits of aid transparency, as we do, and want to show your support, sign the Make Aid Transparent Campaign 


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