01 October 2012

US Organizations Fall Short in Aid Transparency Index

Transparency efforts by international aid donors is improving, but many still have a long way to go. Publish What You Fund (PWYF) released its annual survey of donor transparency today and listed only DfID and the World Bank as organizations with "good" transparency.

Right in the middle of the pack are USAID, PEPFAR, the Gates Foundation and Canada. “As the world’s largest and arguably most influential donor, the U.S. plays a critical role in increasing transparency in foreign assistance. Its decision to sign on to IATI last year was significant – but now it is time to implement," argues Publish What You Fund Director David Hall-Matthews
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The third edition of the aid transparency watchdog's report employed civil society organisations to assist in assessing how each of the donors performed on 43 indicators. PWYF then took 41 of the 43 assessed indicators and scored them based on the level of information availability. The resulting scores were combined into an index that allowed for comparison between countries and progress from the previous year.

Some changes from the 2011 index make it hard to compare against the 2012 results, but an increase in average score from 34% to 41% indicates that measured organizations are moving in the right direction. "Although progress is being made, most aid information is still not published. Aid transparency is falling far short of best practice. The poor and very poor groups are smaller than 2011 but still contain nearly half of all organisations surveyed, including some of the world’s largest donors," says the report conclusions.

Five US agencies (USAID, Department of State, Department of Defense (DOD), Treasury, Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)) and one program (PEPFAR) were included in this year's assessment. MCC stood out as the most transparent donor by cracking the top ten. The department of the defense comes in near the bottom, but manages to be more transparent than UNICEF.

The inclusion of so many US agencies and quotations in the press release seem to indicate that PWYF hopes that changes in US transparency can serve as a tipping point towards greater global transparency. “The U.S. has the chance to be a leader in aid transparency. The benefits are enormous – better decision making by both donors and recipients, identification of waste or misuse of precious aid, reduction in reporting costs and efforts, and increased coordination and accountability," said Hall-Matthews.

Busan was an important moment for global transparency, argues the report. The 2011 Busan High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness was where PWYF launched its 'Make Aid Transparent" campaign. The push led some countries agree to a framework to fully comply with the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standards for publishing information by the end of 2015.

Inclusion in IATI is a common trait among the organizations that finished at the top of PWYF's transparency index. 9 of the top 16 have already begun publishing to IATI and the remaining 7 are already signatories. 

The index favors organizations that comply with IATI standards, but there are concerns about the efficacy of IATI. Ned Breslin, CEO of Water for People, wrote last year, "I believe greater transparency makes coordination and strategic investments more possible, although hardly certain. I do not think we will get to the question of effectiveness – or impact – unless we move beyond showing where money goes to what it actually does over time."

Breslin and other critics argue that further steps need to be taken in order to track the impacts of the money spent.