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Aid donors way behind in meeting transparency commitments

(Credit: Nathan Proudlove)

The UN Development Program (UNDP) is the most transparent aid donor in the world, according to the 2014 edition of the Aid Transparency Index. Overall, aid donors are showing signs of improvement. But the majority are a long way off from meeting their commitments to publish using the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standards by the end of 2015, says Publish What You Fund, the transparency watchdog that produced the report.


UNDP is followed by the U.K.’s Department for International Development, the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation, the previous holder of the top spot, and the GAVI Alliance, a global vaccine initiative.

China yet again holds the dubious honor of placing last.

“If donors want to truly see the maximum value for their aid, they must walk the talk of transparency and accountability; with no any element of double standards in a true spirit of partnership. They must intensify publishing all information on their development cooperation properly to achieve all the intended development results,” said Dalitso Kubalasa of the Malawi Economic Justice Network, in response to the report.

The various programs run by the U.S. government show a wide range of transparency scores. The Department of Defense was the worse US agency, ranking 38th overall. A total of 68 aid donors, from countries to development funds, were assessed by Publish What You Fund. The current trend shows that the majority will not reach their comments to publish all aid information to a common standard by the end of 2015

“A lot of progress was made at the political level in the early days of aid transparency, including a promise to publish aid information to an internationally-agreed common standard by the end of 2015,” said Rachel Rank, Director of Publish What You Fund.

“But with a year to go until that deadline, progress has stalled. The ranking shows that no matter how many international promises are made, and no matter how many speeches there are around openness, a startling amount of organisations are still not publishing what they fund.”

This is the fourth edition of Publish What You Fund’s index. Rank admitted that the first edition received a “chilly response,” when delivering remarks today at the Center for Global Development (CGD) in Washington D.C. Despite that, she is buoyed by the importance of transparency and how the index is helping to spur changes. The hope is that improving transparency helps all involved understand what is happening.

“We felt a strong need to have the trust of our donor countries and the countries where we work. Transparency is the first step towards accountability,” said Haoliang Xu, United Nations Assistant Secretary General and UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, at the CGD event.

Rank commended a group of donors that are called “fast movers” for their improvements over the past year. Those recognized include the Gates Foundation, Canada, UNICEF and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, Ambassador Deborah Birx, admitted that the poor organization of information at PEPFAR led to its better publication. She said that the massive amount of data is a struggle for the organization.

“We’ve already found amazing data when you take it at the site level, rather than the partner level. Some partners run more than one hundred sites, but all are very different,” said Birx.

The progress of PEPFAR and others is encouraging to Rank. More remains to be done, particularly by some large and influential donors, she said. With roughly one year left to implement the IATI standard for reporting, agencies need to provide updated information and liberate the data from hard-to-access forms. The message from the new index is one of urgency to get on track.

“We remain impatient,” she said.

“More than half the organizations we assessed perform poorly. Much of the information they produce is hard to find. What is available is often locked away in PDFs or is hopelessly out of date.”


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]