A memo to the G8: time to deliver on aid transparency

This is a joint post by our Executive Director, Judith Randel, with David Hall Matthews of Publish What You Fund. This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in Devex.

On Saturday 15 June 2013, the United Kingdom hosted a G8 session specifically on trade, tax and transparency —  billed as “Open for Growth” or the 3Ts event (you can read Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office’s speech from the event here). The event  highlighted the importance of transparency and accountability for development, and attracted plenty of attention. If you search Twitter for the hashtag #opendatachallenge, you’ll get an idea of what was discussed at the event.

But as well as coming up with new ideas, we and our partners Publish What You Fund believe the G8 leaders should use this opportunity to deliver on existing transparency pledges.

In January, British Prime Minister David Cameron set out his agenda for the UK’s G8 Presidency in his speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, explaining that his priorities would “focus on advancing trade, ensuring tax compliance and promoting greater transparency, in order to drive lasting global prosperity.” This placed a welcome spotlight on the importance of good governance for reducing poverty.

However, as noted in a recent blog by Kevin Watkins, this year’s G8 is taking place against a new backdrop of austerity, recession and falling aid levels, which makes accountability on existing pledges even more important. With that in mind, the G8 leaders could usefully recall two outstanding agenda items on which they now have the chance to deliver.

1. Deliver full aid transparency as promised

With a maelstrom of new initiatives and issues competing for the limelight in the lead up to the Lough Erne summit, and with increasing attention being paid to the tax and natural resources transparency agenda, we and our partners involved in the International Aid Transparency Initiative are urging Cameron and the other G8 leaders not to lose sight of a key resource: the US$126 billion in overseas development assistance currently given by OECD donors each year.

open nepal stallIncreasing the transparency and effectiveness of aid is key for poor countries. Why? Because it can make a real difference: empowering partner country decision makers to budget, spend and track precious financial resources more effectively, and allowing citizens to hold their governments to account. As you’ll have noticed if you have followed the activities of partner NGOs at Open Nepal Week, there is a huge appetite from developing country stakeholders to use the data provided through IATI to push for genuine change.

The good news for Cameron and his fellow leaders is that much of the hard thinking and political legwork on aid transparency has already been done. The G8 (and many others), agreed to take action at the High Level Forum on Aid Effectivness in Busan, South Korea in 2011, where they committed to “implement a common, open standard for electronic publication of timely, comprehensive and forward-looking information on resources provided through development co-operation, taking into account the statistical reporting of the OECD-DAC and the complementary efforts of the International Aid Transparency Initiative and others.” 

The format for the common standard has been agreed, and some G8 members (including the UK) have made good progress in publishing to it. But there are some noticeable gaps: France, Italy and Japan are yet to set out their plans to publish the IATI components of the common standard and even though some G8 countries have made good progress on this front, there’s still plenty to be done (see the IATI 2013 Annual Report for a detailed review by country).

At next week’s summit, we urge the G8 leaders to reaffirm pledges made in Busan that they will fully implement the common standard, including all elements of the International Aid Transparency Initiative, by December 2015. It’s imperative that the world’s wealthiest donors meet this goal so they don’t fall short on promises they have made to developing countries.

2. Remaining G8 countries to join the Open Government Partnership

10596621743_123308c414_nAnother win for developing countries with a stake in the global transparency movement would be if those G8 members (France, Germany and Japan) who are so far absent from the Open Government Partnership (OGP) committed to join. The open government movement is gathering steam – public support for access to open data as a means of monitoring budgets, public expenditure and tax revenues is growing. Many developing nations are making an active contribution to the OGP, so this is a good opportunity for the G8 to “put their own house in order.”

Initiatives such as the International Budget Partnership and the Open Government Partnership, and standards such as IATI and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, are garnering global support. But open data will only have a real impact on development in the poorest countries if supported by an enabling political environment — and that’s where the G8, the world’s most powerful countries, can have a huge impact.

In the wake of the UN High-Level Panel Report on the Post-2015 Framework proposing a transformational agenda on transparency and a ‘Global Data Revolution’, there is no time like the present for the G8 to be the game-changers and mobilise at the forefront of the open government movement.

We are hopeful about what the G8 will commit to in terms of aid transparency – it’s a great opportunity. Watch this space.