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November 15, 2011 12:09 am
Donor countries and aid agencies are breaking their promises to be more open and transparent about where assistance to poor countries goes and how it is spent, according to a report by a transparency watchdog.
Publish What You Fund, a campaign group, on Tuesday published its first assessment of the transparency of more than 50 donor countries and international organisations. The World Bank’s International Development Agency, which gives low-interest loans and grants to the world’s poorest countries, was rated as the most transparent, while much less detail was available on official aid from some big donors such as France, Canada and Norway.
The report said that almost the only publicly available information on French aid to Côte d’Ivoire, a former colony in which France retains extensive military and diplomatic involvement, was a project commemorating 20 years of research into chimpanzees.
“Lack of information undermines public trust in aid ... in an era when government budgets are tight and the rationale for aid is being questioned,” the report said.
Next week, a conference of donors in Busan, South Korea, will assess governments’ progress in making aid more effective and open. Campaigners say the latest draft of the “outcome document” to be agreed at the conference showed some governments backsliding on commitments they made at previous summits.
As well as pledging more transparency, donors had promised to reduce the practice of “tying” aid to purchases from the donor country and to streamline bureaucracy by using recipient countries’ financial and administrative systems.
Karin Christiansen, managing director of Publish What You Fund, said: “Over the last couple of weeks, some donors have been trying to water down commitments on transparency. The current draft outcome document betrays a lack of ambition and an inclination among donors to defer to the lowest common denominator.”
Robin Ogilvy from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the intergovernmental body that is running the conference, said recipient countries would continue to put pressure on donors to commit to better aid. “Developing countries have become much more vocal and actively involved in negotiations,” he said. “Countries deeply affected by aid effectiveness like Rwanda, Mali, Bangladesh and Honduras have all been active and engaged.”
The Publish What You Fund report said some countries had widely varying levels of transparency between different agencies, In the US, the Millennium Challenge Account set up under President George W. Bush, which distributes aid to countries according to criteria of good government, was the sixth most transparent donor. But the more traditional aid dispensed by the State Department, which is often directed towards political allies, scored much more weakly.
“We’re pleased to be ranked number one on transparency as we think openness brings better results on the ground and stronger accountability,” said Caroline Anstey, World Bank managing director. But she said that the World Bank could still improve.
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