Only 25 percent of aid meets transparency benchmark

A United Nations Development Program-supported project provides vocational training for women in Jordan. Publish What You Fund's “Aid Transparency Index” report ranks UNDP as the most transparent aid donor. Photo by: Salah Malkawi / UNDP / CC BY-NC-ND

More than five years after top donors pledged to make all aid transparent by 2015, data compiled in the Aid Transparency Index and released Wednesday by Publish What You Fund found that only 10 donors, responsible for only a quarter of all aid, are hitting the mark.

As the donor landscape grows more diverse, the link between transparency and aid impact grows more evident, now featuring prominently in the Sustainable Development Goals and global coalitions like the Open Government Partnership. Transparent aid flows have also been shown to increase accountability in recipient countries, allowing better financial planning and implementation.

The data focuses on the top 46 aid donors, and for the first time includes new players such as the United Arab Emirates, which joined China as the two worst performers in this year’s ranking.

The report found that United Nations Development Program, the Millennium Challenge Corp. and UNICEF were the most transparent. UNDP is no stranger to the top spot but this year marks UNICEF’s first among the top three most transparent donors.

A strong performer since the index was launched in 2013, the U.K. Department for International Development retained its position in the top five. Additional agencies scoring “very good” included the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which ranked first in the “reporting performance,” subcategory, meaning results and impact.

From Publish What You Fund’s Aid Transparency Index

Transparency “the bedrock of our founding principles,” Mark Dybul, executive director of the Global Fund told Devex, adding that the Global Fund was an “early publisher of IATI data.”

Global Fund will seek $13 billion over a three year period in its upcoming replenishment, buoyed by a more than $500 million pledge from the European Commission in March, a 27 percent increase over previous EU Commission contributions.

“We operate with a high degree of transparency in all matters, and we believe it is absolutely crucial to our effectiveness,” he told Devex. “There is always a need for even more transparency, but IATI is making great progress.”

DfID ranked first in the “finance” subcategory, as the “best publisher of activity-level financial information and the joint best publisher of organizational planning information,” according to the report.

The U.K. aid agency was the first major donor to report to the IATI index and still one of the few organizations publishing the budget identifier, which aims to “help align information on development flows with recipient country budget classifications.”

A DfID spokesperson told Devex transparency is “vital for making development effective,” and that DfID will “continue pushing the global aid community to meet global transparency standards.”

Some of those “most improved” organizations owe their ascent in the rankings to including activity-level documents such as contracts and evaluations in their reporting. Others, like Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and UNICEF — the latter which rose from “poor” to “very good” in only three years — saw vast improvements after allowing and encouraging the use of open data portals.

“To reach their full potential, these portals should not only display the work done by aid providers but also be accessible to users in partner countries,” write the authors of the report.

The report also reflects well on efforts to streamline transparency across the U.N. and European Commission systems, which in 2013 adopted a common transparency standard and established an inter-service working group, respectively.

Yet many well-heeled donors, notably the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Australia and European Commission’s directorate have “stalled” in their progress, in large part due to irregular reporting and a failure to provide comprehensive data.

And some donor countries with one top-performing agency still have low-scoring aid vehicles as well. “No two agencies from the same donor country or organisation in the index score the same,” Elise Dufief, research and monitoring manager at Publish What You Fund and lead author on the report told Devex. “There is often wide variation in the amount of information made available by different agencies in a single country or multilateral organization.”

This is one of the reasons PWYF chooses to disaggregate aid data within governments or agencies, Dufief explained, and it also explains why some donors, like the U.K., must be cautious as they distribute more aid across government departments.

The U.K. government committed in November to spending more aid across government departments, for example, decreasing aid spent  by DfID from 85 percent last year to 72 percent. Going forward, more aid will be spent through departments like the U.K. Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence, both of which previously appeared on the IATI index with “poor” and “very poor” ratings.

While the U.K. has vowed to bring all departments up to “good” or “very good” ratings by 2021, Dufief said the shift “poses a challenge to transparency.”

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About the author

  • Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.