December 5, 2011

Open up or get closed

Transparency and accountability---these two words are taking over the world by storm. The development community--international donors, international non-governmental organizations and local NGOs-- sing the transparency song and give accountability more mentions than ever before.
Politicians are not left out. From Barack Obama to Jakaya Kikwete to the common Matonya on the street and Dr. Kikoti the technocrat, each talks about transparency and accountability.
When Obama brainstormed with think tanks what shall be his legacy on international politics, Open Government Partnership was conceived. To qualify into the ambitious partnership government must make concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.
Tanzania joined in September when OGP was launched in New York. Now a country action plan is being drawn. It will be presented at ministerial conference in Brasilia this very week. Kenya launched an open data portal, just in time with its entrance into OGP. Uganda did not commit to join in September.
Calls for openness and accountability are mounting on governments from all corners. Citizens want to know in real time what their governments are doing with tax money. They need access to quality services from the governments’ facilities. Having watched on TV, read on the internet and heard stories about other citizens’ access to quality services, poor citizens wonder why they too cannot get similar services.
Armed with substantive information, citizens can follow up for their own rights. This quest for more and more information cannot be quenched with bits of facts here and there. Readers ask critical questions when they read shallow ‘news’. In turn journalists push for more information. Gradually the red tape recedes, if it has to stay.
This is not the first time transparency and accountability is given a show on international dialogue. The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness set out guidelines on accountability but it proved difficult to enforce in practice. The Accra Declaration for Action gave the much needed relief to donors willing to pursue accountability. Following the frustrations, few donors collectively formed International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).
The current drive for transparency and accountability distinguishes itself from the past attempts in several ways.  By going through the current financial turmoil, the world—donors and recipients of aid—have learn effects of lack of accountable systems and dependence on flawed mechanisms of transparency and accountability. Effects of the financial crunch in Europe and America help to illustrate the extent of damage that can be caused by cherished but flawed systems.
The Arab uprising is writing on the wall. A seemingly workable way of governing can be totally flawed from within. London flash mobs and occupy movements in the developed world injures a wound that the financial distress in Europe and America opened.
The message has been sent out vehemently: citizens need more involvement in processes that shape their societies.
To say that recipient governments should open up or get closed is an overstatement. But, it is not totally impossible. Their citizens push for more accountability already. Listen and read the news in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. You will learn about threats and plans to demonstrate.  
Names can be different:Walk to walk in Uganda. Wamachinga impromptu protests in Mwanza and Mbeya. Demonstrations against rising costs of living in Kenya. Activists demanding more citizens’ involvement in constitution process in Tanzania. A common thread in all these actions is anger at laxity in fighting corruption and impunity for misuse of public resources.
Imagine how much trouble can be avoided by just crunching down budget data and making it available to citizens. For a country like Tanzania whose budget is donor supported by more than 40%, openness could be phenomenon. If donors will publish what they fund and governments publishes how it spends donor money, citizens will ask questions whose answers will make practical difference.
Now, than any other time in the history of the world, donors and recipients of aid are speaking in the same tone as far as accountability on international aid is concerned. In the past, donors were doing too little to track effectiveness of the 1% of their GDP they committed for fight poverty and disease in poor countries.
There can be reservations still about opening up. As Jammie Drumond writes, transparency and accountability risks exposing problems to critics of aid that they will shout from rooftops. But concealing or doing business as usual holds a much bigger risk of mistrust with donors and scaling down donations. Global Fund will be slashed partly because of alleged corruption.
Transparency route is gaining popularity immensely. New international NGOs and initiatives have been formed with transparency and accountability as their core agenda. DAC, International Budget Partnership, IATI, African Monitor’s Development Support Monitor, Humanitarian Accountability Principles, BetterAid, AidData and Aid Information Management Systems are just some of them.
The accountability and transparency street is far from fully occupied. The pace is fast and room for hesitation is limited. By far IATI is the most promising contemporary initiative in terms of delivering the action that is needed at the international level.

During the Busan conference on transparency 7 new signatories joined AITI. In total the organization has 27 members.
That accounts to 80 per cent of official development finance. For a country like Tanzania, which is on the receiving end of aid, jumping on this boat becomes imperative. Tanzania is the third country, behind Iraq and Afghanistan in receiving development finance at the tune of USD 3 billion by 2010.
Some donors have taken a leap to build the groundwork for transparency by taking bold steps  to support initiatives, like Twaweza, that expand access to information so that citizens can use it hold government accountable.

It is just a matter of time before development aid is 100% tied to transparency and accountability.

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