UK Takes Twin Steps to Boost Aid Transparency

Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell speaks during Oxfam's 21st Century Aid report launch at the Royal Society in London. Photo by: DfID / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DfIDCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The U.K. has announced a pair of initiatives to boost its campaign toward greater aid transparency: the creation of an independent aid watchdog and the government’s commitment to an aid transparency guarantee.

The UK Aid Transparency Guarantee will help to create a million independent aid watchdogs – people around the world who can see where aid money is supposed to be going – and shout if it doesn’t get there,” Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell said in a speech at the Royal Society with Oxfam and Policy Exchange.

The watchdog, he said, will collect evidence on the effectiveness of the Department for International Development’s programs, while the guarantee commits the department to publishing full information on these initiatives on the DfID website “in a way that is user-friendly and meaningful.”

The guarantee, according to DfID, specifically entails publishing information in English and in major local languages in countries where the department works, and that the information should be comprehensive, accessible, comparable, accurate and timely. It also calls on DfID to allow reuse of information, as well as enable those directly affected by DfID projects to give feedback on the performance of these activities.

In addition, the U.K. has committed to push for full transparency in the global aid system by pressing other donors and requiring all civil society organizations directly receiving DfID funding to observe similar transparency and accountability standards, as well as using its influence to prompt U.K. aid-recipient developing countries to improve transparency in how they use their budget and the aid they receive.

“To the British taxpayer I say this: our aim is to spend every penny of every pound of your money wisely and well. We want to squeeze every last ounce of value from it. We owe you that,” Mitchell said. “And I promise you as well that in future, when it comes to international development, we will want to see hard evidence of the impact your money makes. Not just dense and impenetrable budget lines but clear evidence of real change.”

Reactions to the announcement are mixed.

“It will hopefully establish a new standard of openness and encourage scrutiny by citizens in countries receiving UK aid, as well as assuring UK taxpayers that aid is reaching the poorest,” said Richard Miller, the U.K. director of ActionAid, as quoted by the Press Association.

Meanwhile, Oxfam GB Chief Executive Barbara Stocking reminds the government to ensure that the watchdog is “truly independent,” which she said is the way to “achieve the best results for the British taxpayer and poor people alike.”

In an editorial, The Guardian said Mitchell and Cameron, who wrote an article for the Guardian on the same aid transparency initiatives, ”overstate their case.”

The newspaper says: “This government believes the best way of protecting spending is to prove to taxpayers that it is money well spent. But measuring outcomes can result in a distorting bureaucracy that misses the complexity of a problem and delivers not so much results as unintended consequences. Meanwhile, from the UN downwards the aid sector has been pondering for some years the relationship between accountability and effectiveness. In this new atmosphere, agencies acknowledge that it does not take many bad people to subvert the best of efforts to do good.”

Related stories:

Maternal Health a Top UK Priority at Upcoming G8, G20 Meets

Cameron Orders DfID Spending Transparency 

UK to Implement ‘Full Audit’ of Aid-Recipient Nations - Mitchell

DFID Cancels New Funding for ‘Awareness’ Projects

New UK Government Outlines Aid Reform Plans

About the author

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    Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.