Dissanayake: Numbers Don't Lie

Audits can tell whether an aid-recipient nation has substituted aid financing for its own budget. Performing audits can help donors promote efficient budget management and local ownership of development processes among partner nations, according to economist and historian Ranil Dissanayake.However, there is only so much donors can do to audit beneficiary governments without actually appearing as though they are bullying aid-recipient nations to submitting audit reports, Dissanayake writes in an “Aid Thoughts” blog. A donor, he says, can only advocate that a partner government be audited by a third party and “remove all excuses for not holding the audit” by training the supreme audit body, distributing necessary equipment and providing legal experts. Donors can tap the civil society to help represent the electorate in demanding that aid-recipient governments be accountable in using public funds. To avoid being accused of political partiality, donors should “focus on providing skills to all parties that desire them – and not advice,” Dissanayake writes. “In Tanzania and Malawi, I have noticed an upswing in this kind of work, and initial signs that NGOs and CSOs are engaging more with budget processes, audit and the like are encouraging. This is probably the one area where I think donors tend not to spend enough time working with non-Government actors,” he says.Dissanayake, however, concedes that much work still needs to be done. In reality, audit reports are published late, “often one or two years after the financial year in question, and sometimes even after the Government audited has passed out of power,” he says. Still, Dissanayake deems that the most difficult issue arises when donors “bully” partner governments into making choices. “The Paris and Accra agreements have targets and resolutions that aim to limit these, but ultimately aid recipients have no power of sanction over donor agencies … Some kind of Ombudsman for donors may be helpful, but this will be dismissed as more bureaucracy in the aid community. The answer isn’t obvious, but we need to keep looking,” he adds.

About the author

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    Ma. Rizza Leonzon

    As a former staff writer, Rizza focused mainly on business coverage, including key donors such as the Asian Development Bank and AusAID.