Canada still falling short on aid transparency

Canadian Minister of International Cooperation Beverley Oda. Photo by: © ACDI-CIDA

When International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda returned earlier this summer from meeting with some of Canada’s closest multilateral development partners, she took the opportunity to reiterate the government’s commitment to accountability and transparency at home and abroad. Transparency advocates watched closely, hoping to see the Minister’s rhetoric matched with effective policy improvements.

Minister Oda called on aid agencies to “reduce duplication, and increase their accountability and transparency for those in donor countries demanding full value for their investment dollars.” She emphasized the expectation that aid recipient countries be open and accountable in their governance and administration. Perhaps most significantly, she announced the “Open Data Portal” project of the Canadian International Development Agency.

There’s a reason the government is renewing its focus on transparency: Increasingly, Canadians are questioning the effectiveness of their aid dollars. In an economic environment in which value must be wrung from every penny, many view Canada’s $5 billion in foreign aid investments disappearing into a “black box” where we invest but rarely have clarity on what we’ve achieved. Consider, for instance, that it can take up to 43 months for Canadian-funded aid projects to receive approval—for many of the poorest people in developing countries, this can mean the difference between life and death.

With today’s global movement towards open government and increased transparency, Canada’s reluctance to open its aid investments to greater international scrutiny is archaic. CIDA’s “Open Data Portal” is a step in the right direction, but the government’s actions continue to fall short of its commitments to cooperate on reducing duplication and inefficiencies in how aid is delivered.

Put simply, Canada is lagging behind our major partners in the global push for aid transparency. This is a disappointing reality considering increased transparency not only improves accountability, but also strengthens effectiveness of aid dollars and saves taxpayers’ money. In a recent assessment by the international coalition Publish What You Fund, Canada ranked a dismal 23rd out of 30 countries for aid transparency.

Common sense policies that strengthen the quality of services for citizens and save the government money are rare, but the government is presented with exactly that. By making Canada’s $5-billion worth of foreign aid more transparent, specifically by joining the International Aid Transparency Initiative, we can reduce bureaucratic overhead and ensure that the money we are already spending goes further to reduce poverty. This means we’ll spend more of our money on the real work of aid: helping people work their way out of poverty.

This initiative has been adopted by many of Canada’s closest partners including the UK, the World Bank and the Netherlands, and it’s been endorsed by 22 aid recipient countries like Ghana. By ensuring that participating countries and agencies report their aid funding in a common, simplified format, this initiative promises to allow analysis of how aid money is spent, ensuring that it reaches its intended recipients.

This practical approach to sharing aid information isn’t untested—it’s already being implemented by some of the world’s biggest aid donors, such as the European Commission and the UK.

Not only will this initiative help Canada understand better which of our projects are working and which ones are failing, but it will also prove a shrewd, cost-saving investment at a time when Canada is saddled with a budget deficit. A cost-benefit analysis done by the reputable British NGO Aidinfo suggests with a one-time investment of between $50,000 and $500,000 to modify our information systems, costs would be recouped within a year by through reduced bureaucracy and duplicate reporting requests that are currently managed by CIDA officials.

Adding further incentive for action on behalf of the government is the growing public support for the IATI initiative. Groups like Engineers Without Borders have collected over 10,000 signatures and letters from Canadians on both sides of the political spectrum, using a combination of street-level outreach and social media engagement through sites like www.ewb.ca/yourvoice. They’re vocally supporting IATI not just because of enhanced effectiveness in Canadian aid, but also because of the reduced waste it enables and the way that transparency helps to root out corruption in foreign nations.

In November, world leaders will meet in South Korea at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. There, Canada should commit to IATI as the most effective vehicle to meet its aid transparency goals. These are the types of creative, cost-effective solutions we expect from our government.

Republished with permission from Embassy, the Canadian newsweekly. View the original article.

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