It’s time for the UK government to change track on aid transparency
Following the resignation of Lord Agnew, the minister responsible for open government, the UK has published its 2021-2023 Open Government Partnership (OGP) National Action Plan (NAP), with the glaring omission of several commitments, including our Aid Transparency Commitment and without civil society support.
This is just the latest in a series of failures that represent a missed opportunity by the government to change the track on transparency, make essential reforms, enhance public trust and ensure accountability. With an aid transparency commitment yet to be published, we now strongly encourage government to engage in meaningful, inclusive and deliberative consultation with civil society for the co-creation of ambitious targets.
What is the Open Government Partnership National Action Plan?
The OGP was set up in 2011 by 8 countries, including the UK, with three priorities: accountability, transparency and participation. It is an international initiative that provides a platform for reformers inside and outside of government to develop commitments that “promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance”.
Each member country must produce a National Action Plan (NAP) every two years in collaboration with civil society, setting out specific, measurable and time-bound commitments, which are then monitored and reported on by government, civil society and through the OGP’s independent review mechanism. Since its foundation, over 2,000 commitments have been made by 65 participating countries.
What should the UK government be doing on aid transparency?
In recent years we have seen major changes to the management and volume of UK Official Development Assistance (ODA). The Bond Transparency Working Group (TWG) has been calling for improved transparency in areas of budget planning and aid strategy, which have been poor since the merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth office with the Department for International Development (DFID).
Publish What You Fund, Development Initiatives and Bond put forward a commitment on ODA transparency on behalf of the Bond TWG. Whilst the TWG recognises that its submission of the aid commitment was made later on in the NAP consultation, the commitment does not deviate significantly from previous aid commitments such as those made in the UK aid strategy 2015-2020. The current proposal builds on previous commitments with some modifications around greater CSO consultation and raising the bar in areas where we have noticed a slide in transparency. We proposed:
- A clear, time-framed commitment to aid transparency and specifically reversing the poor transparency seen in recent years from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) particularly around budgets and their strategic focus.
- For this 2022 commitment to build on previous asks around International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) publication, including improving data, communication and consultation around contentious areas such as aid cuts
- Greater transparency across the new government departments now spending ODA
- Greater consultation with NGOs and CSOs on strategy and implementation
- All ODA spending government departments to achieve ‘Good’ or above in the Aid Transparency Index
Where are we now on the UK’s transparency commitments?
A total of ten transparency commitments were drafted by civil society in consultation with government throughout 2021 for the fifth NAP. However, the final NAP only included six commitments. Among those not included was the ODA transparency commitment.
The Open Government UK civil society network responded to the publication accusing the Government of “backsliding” and “watering down” the plan, following unilateral changes to a number of the commitments that were published.
The aid commitment’s omission from the publication is disappointing considering the leading role which DFID played in aid transparency globally.
We note that the Policy Paper Introduction to the fifth UK NAP references the Government’s intention to add further commitments into later iterations, with explicit mention of the ODA commitment. We will therefore continue to hold the Government accountable on their promise to add an ODA transparency commitment to the NAP and advocate for a full consultation between CSOs and government.
Aid transparency needs to be placed front and centre in the UK’s development policy and failure to do so reflects the wider crisis of poor transparency in UK governance, that has led to ministerial resignations.
In terms of next steps, we are asking for the Government to
- Outline a timeline for consultations and publication of additional commitments
- Provide feedback on initial proposals
- Engage in meaningful, inclusive and deliberative engagement to co-create the ODA transparency commitment
If you are interested in discussing these issues more and staying up to date on the UK OGP aid commitment – consider joining the Transparency Working Group.
This blog first appeared on the Bond website.
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