A few weeks ago we talked about our expectations for the first meeting of the Global Partnership on Development Effectiveness in Mexico on 14-15 April. We wanted to see the Global Partnership demonstrating a genuine political will to be held accountable, address bottlenecks and make improvements in making information about their development cooperation more transparent.
Did Mexico deliver? Here are my 5 takeaways:
1. Busan may be as good as it gets
We were told would be “no new commitments” on transparency in Mexico but, ever optimistic, we hoped to see some indications of political will. So while the Mexico meeting did not mark a step back from the original Busan commitments, it did not achieve an ambitious outcome for more transparent development cooperation either. There are some positive references in the Communique on the need to accelerate efforts, improve the quality and usability of published information but no concrete promises. The plethora of voluntary commitments included in annex to the Communiqué, while well intentioned, are just that: voluntary.
2. A new focus on users
At least by recognizing that the quality of published information needs to be improved for it to be useful at country level, development providers have taken a (albeit small) step forwards. At the moment, there are limited incentives for using data due to its varied quality.
In Mexico partner country governments told us why good quality data matters for them: they need more comprehensive (detailed, disaggregated, project level), timely (quarterly publication) and in particular forward-looking information to plan the use of their own resources more effectively. Civil society organisations emphasized that access to information alone is not enough to deliver accountability – multi-stakeholder policy space and an enabling environment for civil society remain crucial for this to happen.
As more development providers publish to IATI and increase their data quality, further action will be required to enable all development stakeholders to use that data. IATI’s members have pledged to work together to improve data use and to support the capacity building of users and data managers.
3. An opportunity to engage with South-South providers
For the first time South-South cooperation providers are committing to sharing more information on the results and impacts of their cooperation. We know that South-South providers didn’t buy in to Busan so this represents a real opportunity to encourage discussion on this type of cooperation and how the transparency principles of comprehensiveness, comparability, timeliness, and accessibility could be applied – see more in our response to the Mexico Communiqué.
4. Time to get the monitoring right
As we expressed in the run up to the meeting, our concerns on the Global Partnership’s accountability framework proved to be well founded. Development providers’ slow progress since Busan in meeting their commitments was conveniently glossed over in Mexico and The Global Monitoring Report was released far too late for it to usefully inform the meeting’s discussions.
Further action to ensure adequate monitoring and reporting of progress against commitments will be critical to the future of the Global Partnership and its legitimacy. A strengthening of the consultative process and a review of the methodology of the Transparency Indicator, planned at the end of 2015/early 2016 will be essential to ensure that progress on aid transparency commitments is accurately measured. Without this, the GPEDC will indeed become little more than a talking shop.
IATI’s commitment in the voluntary annex for a “light touch” assessment in 2015 has the potential to address this and should be welcomed.
5. A missed opportunity to link aid and budget systems
Discussions on the need to ensure aid information is aligned to and compatible with partner country systems and budgets were sadly missing from the meeting. This is disappointing given this has consistently been a key demand of partner countries to enable better planning and decision-making. This is would also allow national stakeholders to track how and where governments are spending development cooperation flows as part of the budget cycle. IATI’s work on the budget identifier is the last piece in the aid transparency agenda and together with our partners we will be looking for opportunities to take this work forward.
Busan was ground breaking for aid transparency. Mexico has taken this agenda a few steps forward, but there is still considerable unfinished business. Going forwards, the key issue will be whether development providers can turn rhetoric into action and start implementing their Busan commitments by publishing fully to the common standard, including IATI by the end of 2015.
The clock is ticking and we’ll be watching closely.