prepared by Paolo de Renzio, Senior Research Fellow at the International Budget Partnership
Open Budget Surveys have repeatedly found that countries that are heavily dependent on foreign aid to finance their budgets tend to have less transparent budget processes, . This might be due to various country characteristics, such as low incomes or weak democratic institutions. But donor behaviour also plays a part, as argued in a recent IBP Briefing Note. The brief highlights the importance of the relationship between donors’ provision of information on aid flows and recipient country governments’ disclosure of budget information to their citizens. In fact, aid transparency and budget transparency are inextricably linked. Budgets in partner countries cannot be made fully transparent without improved aid transparency. Only if donors provide partner countries with sufficient information, compatible with partner country budget systems and schedules, can timely, accurate and comprehensive budget information be made available to citizens of countries receiving aid. This point is also highlighted in the the Dar es Salaam Declaration on Budget Transparency, Accountability and Participation, signed last week by nearly 100 civil society groups.
At the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, which will take place in a few days in Busan, South Korea, the transparency theme will have a prominent place. The latest draft of the Busan Outcome Document (the declaration that participating governments will sign at the end of the Forum) covers transparency issues in a number of ways. First, transparency and accountability are recognized as ‘shared principles’ that form the foundation of development cooperation, alongside ownership, results and inclusive partnerships. Second, a whole paragraph (para 22) is devoted to aid transparency commitments, in which donor agencies undertake to make publicly available more information on aid flows, and to implement a common standard for its publication, building among other things on the efforts of the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Third, donors and recipient countries commit to building more transparent public financial management systems and to improving fiscal transparency.
All of these commitments were the outcome of some difficult negotiations, facing resistance from a number of donor governments, including China, Japan and France. Provided they make it through the final discussions, they are very welcome, and represent a significant step forward in recognizing the importance of transparency and accountability as key ingredients of both aid and development effectiveness. The explicit link between aid transparency and budget transparency, however, is not recognized. Luckily, this link will be the focus of a plenary session, which IBP has helped organize and which is supported by a smaller number of like-minded actors, including the governments of Sweden, the US, Rwanda and South Africa, the Collaborative Africa Budget Reform Initiative (CABRI), the World Bank and CSOs like Transparency International and Publish What You Fund. In this session, more ambitious targets and commitments around aid and budget transparency will be discussed, and hopefully agreed.
One of the most important aspects of the discussions at Busan will be to agree on the future international architecture for development cooperation, with a view to overcome the limitations of the OECD/DAC Working Party on Aid Effectiveness, which for too long has been seen as too exclusive a body that does not reflect the role of emerging donors and the need for a more equal partnership between donor and recipient governments. The current draft of the Busan Outcome Document talks about the establishment of a Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. Ideally, this body should include a specific mechanism for ensuring the transparency-related commitments are monitored and enforced. Such mechanism would also gain from a multi-stakeholder nature, following the example of the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT), which brings together governments, international organizations and civil society groups in a joint effort to promote fiscal transparency across the world.
The International Budget Partnership will be represented at the Busan Forum, and will report back on what happened.
Watch this space!