Aid transparency index 2013: Leaders and laggards

A magnifying glass on top of various money bills. Fifty-eight entities did fair to very poorly in this year's aid transparency index. Photo by: Images Money / CC BY

Two donor agencies, a United Nations agency and a multilateral organization all did a “very good” job making their aid data more available and usable this year.

But while the U.K. Department for International Development, the Millennium Challenge Corp., the GAVI Alliance and the U.N. Development Program excelled, another 58 entities did fair to very poorly in this year’s aid transparency index, which begs the question: Is the aid community — particularly donors — taking the aid transparency agenda seriously?

Publish What You Fund’s 2013 index ranked 67 organizations based on a set of 39 indicators, with new criteria introduced this year.

Now only donors which spend over $1 billion a year, are considered influential and belong to groups that have committed to transparency like the G-20 are eligible, but donors such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey were not included.

“Ideally, we would like to rank all large donors but this is not possible at the present time. It is already a lot of work for us to collect and analyse primary data on 67 organizations,” Publish What You Fund Executive Director David Hall-Matthews told Devex. In addition, he said, their methodology requires that they collect data on a comparable timeframe of over three months.

The International Monetary Fund, the Germany foreign affairs department and the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense, meanwhile, made their debut this year, following suggestions from peer reviews for their huge influence, being responsible for 10 percent of Germany’s ODA spending and for taking on increasing proportions of the U.K.’s aid budget, respectively.

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The 39 indicators are divided into three categories: commitment to aid transparency, organization-level publication of financial information and general plans, and the availability of country-specific project activities, which accounts for 65 percent of an organization’s score.

But this year, format figures largely in the rankings.

Organizations that publish information in machine-readable formats such as XML or excel get higher scores — up to 100 percent — in 22 of the indicators, because this format makes bulks of aid information easier to compare as opposed to word or pdf files.

Indeed, MCC, which topped this year’s index, had several perfect scores in this area, although GAVI was a percentage point higher. Three of the European Commission’s departments — ECHO, DEVCO and FPI — however scored rather poorly, while several organizations scored zero, leaving the average at just 16.38.

Hall-Matthews shared many of the organizations in this year’s index are still “struggling” in publishing information on their development activities.

“Five years ago, when Publish What You Fund began the campaign for aid transparency, the challenge was to get organizations publishing data, in order to demonstrate how people could use this information. Five years on, the challenge is to increase confidence in this new IATI data by encouraging donors to improve the quality and coverage of their information,” he said in an exclusive opinion for Devex.

Front runners

DfID, which has made transparency part of its agenda, performed reasonably well but not as well as last year and behind MCC, especially on aid evaluation and results where it was lagging as compared with MCC: 96.5 and 99.45 to 61 and 55.73.

GAVI again made significant improvements on its IATI publication this year and was the only one that publishes all information under the 22 indicators in XML format. In 2012, it had the second largest improvement among all donors.

But all top four organizations took a score of 50 on audits, raising questions on how clear-cut their aid spending is. In addition, MCC needs to improve on its implementation schedule, and UNDP should improve on the frequency and consistency of publication process.

The index was launched on the inauguration of the first-ever Global Transparency Week, which runs from Oct. 24 to Nov. 1 in London, bringing together 22 transparency advocates from around the world.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.