Points of View 24th April 2012

Hillary Clinton told joining IATI good but not enough | Karin Christiansen, Publish What You Fund

by Guest

Hillary Clinton spoke about the United States’ commitment to aid transparency at the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in Brazil this week.

While we applaud that commitment, we are clear that is only the first step. Now, the issue of how and when the information is published becomes critical – and that means releasing information in a format is useful to policy makers, recipient countries and the public.

Aid has the power to radically transform lives, but its potential is not being fully realised because we do not know enough about how it is spent. The U.S. administration understands this, and agrees that that transparency is essential if aid is to ever truly be effective.

In her speech, Clinton stressed how the U.S. has joined the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), the common standard for publishing aid information, along with over 40 donor and recipient governments.

We welcome this move as a step in the right direction. We know this information on aid exists somewhere, in some format, but it is simply not properly collected across the over 25 agencies spending foreign assistance. By joining the IATI, it will be possible to start answer the question of how and where U.S. assistance is being spent.

But that is not enough.

As the U.S. begins the process of releasing its data, it needs to ensure that its decisions pave the way for information that is timely, comparable and useful. Publishing information following these principles will greatly help the U.S. make better decisions about how it spends it resources

For agencies working on the ground in Afghanistan, Haiti or Liberia, knowing where money has been spent after the fact does not help much – they need to know where money is going right now.

Without timely, as well as comprehensive and comparable information, we aren’t getting the most out of those precious aid resources. Various agencies and donors will be duplicating effort, and wasting time and money. In the worst cases, agencies even risk undermining each other’s work.

The U.S. needs to make some clear decisions.  Discussions on how to implement the IATI are happening right now between a number of different powerful actors, including the White House, USAID and the State Department, which makes this a crucial time to ensure the right decision is made.

Publishing to the right standard should now be the priority. The U.S. can and should lead on aid transparency allowing recipient countries to see where tax payers’ money is going. This publication would allow us, for the first time, to compare spending across donors.

We all want more transparent, effective and accountable governments – with institutions that empower citizens and are responsive to their aspirations. But this takes that crucial combination of political and technical leadership.

In her speech in Brazil yesterday, Clinton said, ‘We now have a chance to set a new global standard for good governance and to strengthen a global ethos of transparency and accountability’.

We urge the U.S. administration sustain this ambition when deciding how to publish their own information.

Karin Christiansen, Publish What You Fund