South Korea starts talking aid transparency

Guest post by E sol Cho, ODA Watch

On November 15th 2013, ODA Watch held a policy forum on the Korean aid transparency, with an aim to raise public awareness of the issue and build a consensus that more is needed to make aid transparent.

The event attracted more than 40 participants from all national stakeholders, including the Korean government, CSOs, academics and citizens who have interest on the issue.

korea1Korea, as an OECD DAC donor and a host for the HLF-4 in Busan, made a promise to increase aid transparency and accountability in a way of pursuing enhanced aid effectiveness and its quality. According to the Busan Agreement, the Korean government has a responsibility to publish information on its foreign aid to the internationally agreed common standard, the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI),by 2015.However, this commitment has rarely been noted in the national policies.

Earlier this year, ODA Watch and other Korean CSOs launched ‘The Korean Aid Transparency Campaign’, publishing video clips to let citizens know what aid transparency is and doing media performance in order to encourage the government to join into IATI and make aid transparent.

The campaign ended successfully, resulting with up to 10,000 citizens signing up for the petitions. Following these positive results, our forum was able to deepen the level of discussion on aid transparency, in a way of leading the high level commitment towards actual implementation of aid transparency in Korean aid projects and policies.

Representatives from the Committee for International Development Cooperation (CIDC) under the Prime Minister’s Office, Korea International Cooperation Agency(KOICA), related CSO workers, and academics in the development field, took part in the forum as speakers and discussants.

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Publish What You Fund’s Andrew Clarke, also participated as a keynote speaker. It was a very informative session as he shared ideas and knowledge on how other donors have taken steps towards greater transparency. In-depth explanation on the needs and importance of IATI as a common standard and the donors’ common concerns on it attracted the audience.

Here are the following points brought to the table:

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In Korea’s case, one of the main reasons for the government’s reluctance to join IATI is because they are worried about the cost and time needed to build a new aid management information system. But as Andrew pointed out, implementing IATI now will create more benefits in the long term, compensating the costs. Also, the participants were able to learn more about IATI which is still considered quite new and not well-known initiative in Korea yet.

Few more meaningful outcomes and interesting findings were drawn out in the forum.

A representative from the CIDC said the government was considering producing a guideline on aid transparency in consultation with related CSOs over the next few years. Then they plan to open the ODA monitoring system to the public, the government ODA database for aid statistics, and current information on aid activities by 2015.

Finally, the crowd was told that aid transparency will be addressed in the coming CIDC meeting in December 2013, as part of the implementation schedule for Post-Busan monitoring framework. KOICA revealed their goal to put themselves on higher ranks for the next 2014 Aid Transparency Index (KOICA was ranked 30 out of 67 in 2013).

Joining IATI, however, is still at a standstill with all parties not being able to reach an agreement.

It is because there are fundamental challenges that the Korean government faces – namely the fragmentation of aid. In Korea, more than 40 ministries run their own separate aid projects and that unfortunately divides the ODA budget into smaller portions for each and their 40 different viewpoints. Obviously this makes it harder for ministries participating in ODA to make single unattached decisions.

The other challenge is that ministries are reluctant to publish their aid information, because it is a burden to be accountable for each aid expense.

Regarding IATI issues, there’s a huge gap between ministries regarding their level of recognition, preference and attitude toward publishing information on them. It is therefore down to the central government’s will to have a strong stance regarding aid transparency and IATI.

For this to happen, we need more attention and support from our citizens. This is our campaign’s drive and we will keep going until we make the difference.

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