Aid and development is not just about how much you spend, it’s the way that you spend it. Publish What You Fund has campaigned for transparent, effective aid since the ‘Accra Agenda’ was agreed in 2008. In 2011, donors committed to publish timely, comprehensive and forward-looking data on aid and development finance, and for the past five years, we have been holding them to that promise. The latest such meeting was convened in Nairobi last week by the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC), which Publish What You Fund attended together with governments and civil society groups from around the world.
Before the Nairobi conference, we wrote that “development effectiveness is not dead, but it’s on life support”. The Sustainable Development Goals drew attention to goals and targets, rather than how to pay for them or implement them; and the global crackdown on civil society and human rights continues apace.
In that context, we give a cautious welcome to the Nairobi Outcome Document. The Global Partnership did not make much progress, but it held the line on the achievements of previous years, and transparency is one of them. We were pleased to see providers of development cooperation commit to improving transparency through open data standards like the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) (para 76a), as well as increasing support for data-use, both in development and humanitarian initiatives (para 76d). We were also pleased to see a commitment to make data standards inter-operable (para 73) so that data on aid and development finance can be joined up with budgets, contracts and extractive industry revenues.
However, while everyone now preaches transparency, they don’t always practise it. Our latest Aid Transparency Index shows that only 25% of aid worldwide meets the highest transparency standards. The challenge is particularly acute for development finance institutions and providers of South-South cooperation. We share the concern of the Civil Society Partnership for Development Effectiveness that the Nairobi conference enhances the role of the private sector in development without commensurate increases in transparency and accountability. It is essential that all financing for development, whether public, private or blended, is published and accounted for. We hope that businesses will “become increasingly transparent and responsive to all sections of society” (para 79a).
Who will hold the signatories of the Nairobi Outcome Document to account? The monitoring framework run by the GPEDC is a good start but lacks teeth: we haven’t seen anybody change their behaviour as a result of the monitoring report. However, there is an explicit agreement to address the “unfinished business” of the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda, and to develop time-bound action plans in relation to these commitments (para 35).
At Publish What You Fund, we will take the signatories of the Nairobi Outcome Document at their word, and will continue our own, independent monitoring so that data can be used for better decision-making, accountability and learning.