Venus in Arms has already focused on the complex relationship between security and development (especially from a European perspective). Here below a guest post by Francesca Fondi* on development cooperation and transparency. 2015 will be a crucial year.
With 2014 officially over, 2015 already profiles itself as a key year for development cooperation. In particular, challenges are ahead for global, European and Italian institutions in order to fulfil international commitments and grant appropriate space and efforts to a transparent delivery of aid.
Firstly, 2015 is the year of the ultimate definition of the so-called post-2015 agenda, whereby the new strategic goals are set to fight poverty and ensure sustainable development on a global scale. The final deadline for the accomplishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs – eight time-bound targets set in 2000 during the Millennium Summit) is in fact approaching: whereas the MDGs have been effective for substantial resources mobilisation, some of the eight objectives are still far from being reached. The period following December 2015 will therefore require the finalisation of further priorities and targets for the world long-term development agenda (SDG – Sustainable Development Goals). The UNDP and the OECD are among the organisations leading the process.
Moreover, in a period when a number of OECD DAC members are decreasing their funds for development assistance, some of the basic concepts at stake are also being re-defined, such as the one of ODA (Official Development Assistance). Discussions are ongoing among international development stakeholders to broaden the definition of development assistance to more global development efforts and to include spending on security and stabilisation. The ‘new’ ODA would therefore encompass a wider range of activities, aimed at highlighting the link between development and security, in particular at times when instability and humanitarian crises are increasingly growing on a global scale.
2015 is also the final year for the donor community to align to the commitments made in Busan, Korea, in December 2011 during the 4th High Level Forum on Development Effectiveness. As outcome of the meeting, all major bilateral and multilateral donor organisations signed up to the Busan declaration, thus committing, among the others, to “implement a common, open standard for electronic publication of timely, comprehensive and forward-looking information on resources provided through development cooperation”.
Such statement entails the alignment to the common standard for aid transparency, made up by the ‘traditional’ OECD DAC reporting modules (the Creditor Reporting System – CRS++ and the Forward Spending Survey – FSS), as well as the IATI (International Aid Transparency Initiative) standard, already set up and agreed upon during the 3rd HLF in Accra in 2008.
Since 2012, multilateral and bilateral development organisations have therefore been struggling quite extensively to ensure that their organisation progressively implements such commitment, which is, above all, a political one. However, the results achieved up to now are not always satisfactory.
From one side, the common standard implementation is currently monitored by the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation report, in particular through the Transparency Indicator, a composite indicator that assesses the three core features of the common standard: timeliness, coverage and forward looking information. From the other side, the alignment to the IATI standard is closely followed by the watchdog NGO Publish What You Fund, that every year, since 2011, assesses (68) donors’ performance through its Aid Transparency Index (ATI).
Not surprisingly, according to the 2014 ATI, the best pupils are the Nordic cooperation (for instance SIDA, DfID and the Netherlands), as well as some of the major multilateral donors and development banks such as UNDP and the World Bank. The European Commission, the biggest ODA provider worldwide, has been one of the organisations that most significantly improved their performance in the publication of data on foreign aid in the last couple of years. All services ranking among the top 15 in the 2014 ATI, DG Development and Cooperation (DEVCO) has been the frontrunner in the implementation of the IATI standard, shortly followed by DG Enlargement, Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI) and ECHO.
Within the framework highlighted above, a progress towards an increased transparency of financial assistance to third countries appears even more relevant and appropriate.
However, the significant efforts needed to adapt to a standard that, inevitably, cannot reflect the working processes and structures of such different organisations, need to be compensated not only by an increased transparency of external assistance towards the recipient countries and individual taxpayers, but also by internal benefits coming from a use of the published information, notably for policy making and evaluation of assistance programmes.
Finally, 2015 has also been made the European Year for Development: as per the communication by the European Commission, it will represent a key opportunity to increase knowledge and discourses on development across the continent. In times not only of economic crisis, but also of crisis of global solidarity values, Europe seems indeed in the need for messages and a renewed consciousness in this respect. The European campaign therefore intends to raise awareness within the wider public on the importance of the development agenda in Europe as well as worldwide, targeting in particular the ‘new’ Member States.
Within this development framework, the Italian Development Cooperation has started its engagement towards a more transparent provision of information on its aid and also more in line with the international standards mentioned above. A recent observer to the IATI Steering Committee meetings, it has created an open portal that provides data on the financial assistance to third countries. Based on the OECD CRS reporting system, the portal collects information mainly from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, local administrations and the Ministry of Finance; it is planned to further extend the data coverage also to private as well as non governmental funding sources in order to provide a complete picture of the global contribution of Italy in terms of development assistance.
However, efforts are still to be foreseen for a full or partial alignment to the Busan transparency commitments (Italy is still not publishing aid data on the IATI Registry and it is ranked among the bad performers in the 2014 ATI).
In any case, initiatives like the above need to be praised for their relevance in terms of efforts to align to global standards, as well as to make aid spending more transparent towards citizens and development organisations.
Finally, endeavours to create a global standardised information system on development assistance, well beyond the definition of ODA and of the list of OECD DAC members, are in line with the current discourse on the so-called data revolution, a UN-led initiative aimed at enhancing the collection and use of data in the development context. Although at times criticised for its intellectual sloppiness, the importance of accessing and being able to retrieve reliable data on which policy analyses and decisions can be taken is not debatable.
Indeed, this is going to be one of the major challenges for 2015.
* Francesca Fondi has been dealing with the Balkans and development cooperation since 2006, working firstly in the field and currently at headquarter level from Brussels. She holds a PhD from IMT Institute for Advanced Studies Lucca, with a dissertation on higher education in Albania.