Can the Millennium Challenge Corp.’s lauded commitment to transparency and evaluation help build a framework for development solutions that extend beyond national borders?
MCC has long been promoted as an example of transparent development implementation and evaluation. Now, the agency’s leaders are hoping an online open data system that is more responsive to stakeholders’ needs and a new platform for collaboration between MCC compact countries can foster progress on development challenges that cross national borders — like energy, water and transportation.
Following Thursday’s board meeting, MCC held on Friday its quarterly town hall meeting to report on the U.S. development agency’s major initiatives, among them a new $277 million follow-on compact with El Salvador expected to be signed this fall.
The compact includes an $85 million contribution from the Salvadoran government and is intended to improve the country’s competitiveness in international markets by streamlining regulations and controlling corruption, through investments in 7-12 grade education and vocational training, transportation improvements, and public-private partnerships to expand the airport and invest in new wind farms.
The partnership also requires steps by the El Salvadoran government to continue to improve on some of MCC’s good governance indicators.
“We expect the government of El Salvador to make continued progress on strengthening the investment climate and the rule of law, including respect for judicial independence,” said MCC CEO Daniel Yohannes. “We also expect the government to make progress in combating money laundering and effectively implementing its trade agreements. Efforts by the current government and the next government to demonstrate tangible sustainable progress on these issues will be critical to our partnership.”
The board meeting also focused on lessons learned from five recently concluded compacts, and a bigger-than-ever push to open MCC’s data troves to the public and to stakeholders in partner countries.
While MCC has sought progress in these critical sectors, some have questioned whether the agency’s country-focused partnerships leave it ineffective in solving problems that depend on regional cooperation.
That question has especially come to the fore in light of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative for broadening access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa, an scheme that will depend on international transmission lines and where MCC is expected to play a big role.
MCC leaders hope new data-sharing and learning systems, together with programmatic efforts to coordinate cross-border initiatives will provide the bridge between MCC’s country-focused design and the trans-boundary problems countries face.
In Honduras and El Salvador, two programs — one in each country — will focus on cross-border transportation issues, and enlist private sector partners to ease congestion on a major international highway.
Meanwhile, Congress is poised to consider legislation to cement the Obama administration’s recent “open government” strides into law and require more robust evaluation and disclosure of foreign assistance programs.
MCC has welcomed Obama’s transparency push, while at the same time admitting that posting numbers to the U.S. government’s “foreign assistance dashboard” — the online clearing house for aid data — hardly ensures those numbers are useful to partner countries or development actors on the ground.
The agency on Friday announced plans to take transparency further in the coming year, by turning its currently “ugly and inaccessible” open data website — data.mcc.gov — into a user-friendly tool that automatically pools information from MCC projects in more useful data formats, said Heather Hanson, MCC’s senior policy advisor for policy and evaluation.
MCC also intends to release a new “open government plan” next June, based on information collected from partner countries about what kind of data local want from the MCC. The agency will also be amending its disclosure policy, to grant staff wider authorization to release information and documents to the public.
Hanson explained that even in instances when MCC has conducted a country or program assessment, and then decided not to pursue projects in that region or sector, the information and analysis they conducted — such as its growth constraints analyses that identify critical sectors for improvement — can still be useful to other development actors and should therefore be widely available upon request.
Finally, MCC is exploring ways to more flexibly use some of its own resources to help partner countries in areas where data capacity may be needed in order to drive smart investments.
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