Germany has published its first set of aid information to the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Some of us have been waiting a long time for this to happen.
It is particularly good news as Germany was among the first signatories to IATI in September 2008, and the road to publication has been long. In recent months, the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has worked hard to meet the deadline of March 2013. I wish to congratulate them on this important step.
It is true that there is a lot room for improvement in the first release of IATI data by Germany. As Publish What You Fund puts in its assessment of Germany’s implementation schedule, Germany’s stated plans for IATI are “unambitious”. Improvements are particularly needed in the coverage, the degree of detail and the timeliness of the data.
With regards to IATI, donors have been asked to publish first and improve the quality after – in that sense, even an incomplete publication of IATI data is a first and welcome step. Now BMZ has announced an improved second data release already in May 2013, so we can expect a slow but gradual improvement of Germany’s IATI data until 2015.
My real worry is that this first publication of IATI data does not indicate at all a change of heart in German aid transparency, or a change of our culture of transparency. In my opinion, aid transparency, open data and transparency more generally are not a priority for the German government. Tim Berners-Lee famously said that successful open data and transparency needs champions at the top, in the middle and at the bottom of an institution or society.
I believe that in Germany, support for open data and transparency is weak at all three levels.
In the UK and USA, transparency, open data and open government continue to be very high on the political agenda. Also, in founding countries of the Open Government Partnership, like Brazil and Indonesia, a key factor for progress on transparency was political leadership.
This leadership is painfully missing in Germany. Germany is not a member of the Open Government Partnership, does not have an open data policy and until now there is no vocal champion for open government, open data or transparency in any of the established parties.
Transparency champions in the middle could be agency leaders or parliament. The UK, Sweden and the World Bank are examples where aid transparency was pushed by agency leaders Andrew Mitchell, Gunilla Carlsson and Robert Zoellick.
The German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dirk Niebel has also talked a lot about transparency in the past – however almost exclusively about the transparency of others. I want to see him publicly support and push Germany’s IATI implementation. The ministry is planning a transparency strategy at the moment and support for IATI by senior management within BMZ seems to grow. However, it will take strong leadership by the minister to not only implement IATI but change the culture within BMZ and the implementing agencies GIZ and KFW.
In the Netherlands it was the parliament that pushed strongly for more aid transparency. In the German parliament however, such a push has been missing until now. The emergence of the Pirate Party stimulated the general transparency debate in Germany, and some progress regarding aid transparency in the parliament as IATI is included in party programmes of the Social Democrats and of the Green Party for the up-coming general election.
There is a hearing on IATI in the parliamentary commission planned for May 2013, which may help to garner support for this initiative. But on the whole, positive trends from the parliament are still weak and have not yet resulted in strong political demands for transparency or open data. You would think that in such a case it is up to civil society to demand progress on transparency, open data and on aid transparency in particular.
However, aid transparency is a double-edged sword for NGOs in development cooperation. Internationally, only a few NGO networks like BOND in the UK, PARTOS in the Netherlands, Interaction in the USA, FORS in the Czech Republic and, to some extent, KEPA in Finland, are advocating for IATI implementation by their governments and by their members. Again, in Germany this is not the case. It is probably safe to say that many NGO representatives in Germany still don’t know about IATI.
So, yes, the publication of IATI data is great – but Germany has not yet arrived in the era of transparency and openness. To get there we need more support from civil society, a strong demand from parliament and strong political leadership to really turn the page and change the culture.