4 recommendations for a stronger DFID transparency agenda
9 February 2018
DFID’s Transparency Agenda “Open Aid, Open Societies”, launched on Tuesday 6 February, details the UK government’s commitments to the transparency of aid and development up to 2020.
Wide ranging, it renews the UK government’s support of international initiatives such as IATI, EITI, CoST and the Open Government Partnership. It also strengthens existing commitments to supporting other governments to fight corruption and increase taxation to generate more revenue and reduce reliance on international aid. Harriet Baldwin, minister of state for international development, will head a new taxation and public finance unit within DFID to coordinate this work.
DFID will continue its leadership role on exposing who really owns companies. The agenda also sets out a commitment to increase the transparency around global commodity trading by national governments in relation to natural assets such as oil and gas.
Civil society is central to holding governments to account for public spending, and the agenda sets out DFID’s commitment to “scaling up support for a healthy, free media and civil society” and “open and safe digital spaces” in countries where these institutions provide essential scrutiny and oversight of government decision-making.
So far, so good and we commend DFID for a comprehensive transparency strategy. However, the agenda was short on detail about the finance needed to meet these commitments, and particularly how civil society in countries will be supported.
We’d welcome a much stronger commitment to providing support beyond the international transparency initiatives to civil society at ground level, where accountability and transparency need to be more than just words. We’d like to see DFID set up national or regional working groups to bring DFID country offices and civil society closer together around this agenda and really embed it at country level.
We’d also recommend that DFID works much more closely with other UK government departments and Development Finance Institutions spending Official Development Assistance, on their own transparency and accountability. This needs to cover all the commitments, not just asking them to produce IATI open data.
There’s also an unresolved tension in the agenda between funding civil society organisations in countries to protect themselves against government policies and regulation that constrain their freedoms , and pushing them hard to be publicly transparent in return for DFID funding. There is a very real risk of country governments using the donor-enforced transparency of civil society organisations, particularly around international funding sources, to increase restrictions. We’d like DFID to recognise that their transparency policies and funding rules are not always aligned.
Lastly, although DFID’s support for transparency initiatives in specific sectors is encouraging, there needs to be much more action by donors and supporters of these initiatives to bring the data and learning into one place in a way that makes sense to citizens. From budgeting to public procurement to expenditure to results – citizen groups should not have to engage with each of these initiatives’ data independently and make the connections themselves. We’d like to see much more engagement and interaction between the key initiatives, and DFID are well-placed to take a lead on this alignment process.