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UK aid for the Typhoon Haiyan response arrives at Cebu airport in the Philippines

Credit: Simon Davis/DFID - Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

DFID rated best for aid transparency, while FCO fails government standard

24 June 2020

The Department for International Development (DFID) is still one of the best-performing bilateral donors on aid transparency, according to the 2020 Aid Transparency Index

DFID meets the highest standards for reporting and transparency of all UK government departments that spend aid. Conversely, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) remains one of the least transparent spenders of foreign aid globally, ranking 38th out of 47 donors in the index. 

DFID has consistently reached the highest rating since the index was started by Publish What You Fund. The index is the only independent measure of aid transparency among the world’s major development agencies, assessing how well donors disclose information on their aid spending.

With the upcoming merger of the FCO and DFID, the FCO’s rating should be concerning for the British public and the international development sector. Although the FCO has risen to a “fair” rating from “poor” in the 2018 index, the department has still not reached the UK government's transparency commitment of “good” or “very good” in 2020. 

The FCO’s poor score for the information it provides on its objectives, evaluations and impact is particularly concerning. As Gary Forster, CEO of Publish What You Fund, points out:

“It is of paramount importance that we allocate UK aid to the kinds of activities that have proven and replicable impact. Without results and evaluations it’s just not clear how we do that.”

We must be able to scrutinise how UK aid is spent and how it delivers results for the world's poorest people, so we can ensure the aid we provide is of the highest standard, especially at a time when Covid-19 risks pushing millions back into poverty. The UK taxpayer and the countries where aid is spent must be able to access this information if we are to ensure aid directly benefits the most marginalised communities and delivers value for money. 

The UK government must urgently deliver on its commitment to ensure all aid-spending departments receive a grading of "good" or above.
 
All UK aid-spending departments should look to follow DFID's positive example. The UK government should also push for UK-funded multilaterals and global institutions to have the highest standards of transparency and accountability. GAVI, the vaccine alliance at the forefront of the Covid-19 vaccine development, and UN OCHA, the UN's humanitarian agency leading the global Covid-19 humanitarian response, both increased their scores in the 2020 Index. 
 
The UK government needs to maintain its credibility and leadership on aid transparency and accountability. The UK must retain its critical role in the Open Government Partnership (OGP), while also continuing to support the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).

Bond members have voiced their concern on transparency. Gavin Crowden, director of policy and campaigns at Concern Worldwide (UK), comments:

“Public accountability is critical to ensure aid is effective in reaching the most vulnerable – which is why it’s alarming to see that, once again, the FCO lags considerably behind DFID in aid transparency. As the government announced its plans to merge these departments, they must commit to upholding DFID’s high standards, as well as maintaining independent aid scrutiny bodies, like ICAI. The coronavirus pandemic means humanitarian need is set to soar this year. Now, more than ever, we need to see aid going to the world’s poorest communities.”

Farah Nazeer, deputy director of advocacy at ActionAid UK, says: 

“As it stands, the FCO model of aid delivery is just not best placed to deliver transparent and accountable aid to women and girls. To protect women’s rights, the policies and practices of delivering overseas aid through the new FCDO must rise to match – and even exceed – the high standards established by DFID, rather than falling to the FCO’s low levels of transparency, efficiency and impact.”