Will Busan deliver on aid transparency?

In the Accra Agenda for Action, donors promised to “publicly disclose regular, detailed and timely information on volume, allocation and, when available, results of development expenditure to enable more accurate budget, accounting and audit by developing countries.” Photo by: opensourceway / CC BY-SA

By Alexandra Beech and Carolyn Culey, senior policy advisor at aidinfo

As you’d expect in the runup to a major international conference such as the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan this month, key players are gearing up to show the progress they’ve made in the last three years, and to consider next steps.

At a time of international financial crisis, when we see many donors scaling back their aid commitments, the aid effectiveness agenda becomes even more important in ensuring that all aid achieves maximum impact on poverty.

HLF4 will provide an opportunity for reviewing progress against the commitments made in the 2005 Paris Declaration for Aid Effectiveness and the subsequent Accra Agenda for Action in 2008. Crucially, it will look to the future to see how all actors can build on these commitments with concrete actions for improving the future effectiveness of aid.

From our perspective, transparency is an essential prerequisite for improved aid effectiveness, and we hope that the Busan outcome document will contain a clear, specific, time-bound commitment by all actors to publish timely, detailed, forward-looking aid information in a common, open format, compatible with the standard developed by the International Aid Transparency Initiative.

Progress to date

The Paris declaration set out five mutually reinforcing principles for aid effectiveness and HLF3 in Accra expanded this agenda, adding commitments in a number of areas, including transparency.

In the Accra Agenda for Action, donors promised to “publicly disclose regular, detailed and timely information on volume, allocation and, when available, results of development expenditure to enable more accurate budget, accounting and audit by developing countries.”

IATI was launched at Accra with the aim of helping donors to meet this commitment in a consistent, coherent way. Having consulted partner countries and civil society organizations, IATI has developed a common, open standard for the publication of aid information which seeks to meet their priority needs. To date, IATI has 21 signatories - who together account for just over 50 percent of official development assistance - plus 22 partner country endorsers.

The last few months have seen increased momentum on IATI as donors prepare for Busan. So far, seven signatories have published their information to IATI – the United Kingdom, Hewlett Foundation, World Bank, Netherlands, Australia, UNOPS and European Commission - and a further nine are expected to do so before HLF4. In addition, a number of NGOs have expressed interest in publishing their data to the IATI standard, and two have already done so.

Meanwhile, a statement by Commonwealth Finance Ministers in September included a commitment “to collectively support the adoption of IATI or an IATI-compatible common standard to ensure that efforts on aid transparency have the maximum  impact” and we are hopeful that current negotiations on a common EU position for HLF4 will also result in supportive language on IATI.

All of these are encouraging signs of growing support for IATI, but what can we expect at Busan?

Why IATI matters

At present, we are pleased to see that IATI is positively referenced in the latest draft of the Busan outcome document. But the language is in square brackets, meaning that it is not yet agreed. A team of political sherpas has been tasked with working on the outcome document, with the ambition of finalising it in advance of Busan.

At aidinfo, we have helped to develop the IATI standard and promote it because we believe that publication of aid information to a common, international, open standard is the best of way of meeting the priority needs of stakeholders in partner countries. Typically, these users want access to timely, forward-looking, detailed, comparable information from all of their aid providers in a common electronic format that can be mapped to aid management and budget systems, and used and repurposed to meet a variety of different needs at national level. These needs are not, and cannot, be met by the existing reporting mechanisms such as the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s CRS, which provides high-quality, backward-looking, verified statistics as opposed to timely management information. 

That’s why we want to ensure that a reference to IATI is maintained in the final text of the Busan outcome document. We are concerned that if there is no reference to IATI, all of the hard work undertaken by IATI over the past three years could effectively be lost, and with it, the best hope of promoting an international transparency standard that meets the needs of stakeholders in partner countries.

The benefits of IATI and its ultimate success rest on its wide adoption by all aid providers, whether they are traditional donors, or new actors. We are confident that the IATI standard has sufficient flexibility to cater to all aid providers, whether they are DAC donors, providers of South-South cooperation, philanthropic foundations or NGOs. IATI also allows donors to move at their own pace by completing individual implementation schedules.

We therefore urge all of those participating in the HLF4 process to support a clear, specific, time-bound commitment by all actors to publish timely, detailed, forward-looking aid information in a common, open format, compatible with the standard developed by the International Aid Transparency Initiative. By doing so, they will lay the foundations for ensuring greater aid effectiveness.

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