Aid Transparency Improving but Not Enough: Report

By The Irrawaddy 2 July 2015

RANGOON — International aid donors are falling short on commitments to provide open data on their spending and operations in developing countries, according to a report released in Washington on Wednesday.

In 2011, major international development donors, including many of those currently active in Burma, committed to improving aid effectiveness by providing open information on their spending, in part through the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), a voluntary code.

While some US donor entities are making progress, others, including the State, Treasury and Defense departments, are falling short of reaching agreed transparency standards by the end of this year, according to the 2015 US Aid Transparency Review released by the Publish What You Fund alliance group.

A similar review of European Union donors released in June found that organizations such as Sweden’s SIDA and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) were “very good” at fulfilling reporting requirements in 2013.

But more than half of EU development flows to some of the poorest and most aid dependent countries did not meet open data targets in that year. Just 21 percent of EU aid to Burma was visible in 2013, the report said.

A total of 45 percent of all Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Burma for the same year was visible on another data register at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Burma signed up to the IATI in 2014 and aid transparency appears to be on track to improve significantly this year with the provisional launch of a new aid data management system in the country, available online at mohinga.info.

Around 80 percent of overseas development aid to the country has reportedly been recorded on the site which is under the auspices of the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, with funding and technical support from the European Union.

The site states that US$5.31 billion in aid has been recorded as having been committed to Burma since 2011, when the new quasi-civilian government began to initiate reforms and international organizations flooded into the country.

The website displays information about key aid donors to Burma and the sectors to which aid has been committed. Japan is by far the largest donor, with some $2 billion in aid committed.

Aid commitments are also broken down by states and regions, revealing some wide differences in the areas in which aid is being spent. Individual projects are also listed.

The site as currently presented comes with a disclaimer to the effect that the data depends on donors voluntarily submitting information in a continual basis, and in a compliant fashion.

Open data is designed to help governments manage aid better, encourage coordination among donors and improve accountability over how aid is spent.

However, large data frequently comes with its own challenges, including how to interpret, analyze and use the information presented.

According to an EU report on the Publish What You Fund website in February, “training will also be offered to Parliament, civil society and other stakeholders around the country to show them how the system can be of use to them.”

Editor’s note, July 6, 2015: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that USAID was falling short on its commitments to achieve donor transparency. In fact, USAID is on track to meet its commitments and has been listed as having “Good” performance by Publish What You Fund.