FCDO must maintain a clear commitment to aid transparency to strengthen aid effectiveness and accountability
- A new review by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact examines how the UK’s aid transparency practices have evolved since 2015.
- Aid transparency plays a fundamental role in the UK’s commitment to providing high quality and accountable development assistance.
- The UK has established itself as a global leader on aid transparency, but concerns have been raised about a recent reduction in transparency following the merger of the Department for International Development and Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
- ICAI’s review calls for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to maintain a clear commitment to aid transparency to strengthen aid effectiveness and accountability.
The UK’s aid transparency practices come under scrutiny in a new review published today, Thursday 6 October, by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI).
The aid watchdog’s latest report examines the effectiveness of the UK’s aid transparency practices since 2015. The review was conducted as the newly formed Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) continues to develop its policies and practices around the publication of aid data.
ICAI reports that aid transparency plays a fundamental role in the UK’s commitment to providing high quality and accountable development assistance. The UK has been a global leader on aid transparency. However, the independent scrutiny body warns that a recent decline in aid transparency risks sending a signal that the UK’s commitment to excellence in development cooperation is waning.
Minimal transparency around the recent aid budget reductions, the lack of information on aid spending priorities for individual countries and the lack of a full FCDO departmental budget for 2022-23 are among the issues raised by ICAI. This has restricted the ability of Parliament and civil society to hold the government to account, the watchdog reports.
ICAI calls for the FCDO to maintain a clear commitment to aid transparency to strengthen aid effectiveness and accountability. The report concludes with four recommendations.
ICAI commissioner, Tarek Rouchdy, who led the review said:
“Transparency is an intrinsic part of the UK’s commitment to and reputation for excellence in development cooperation. The former Department for International Development (DFID) spearheaded efforts to increase transparency, helping to improve the value for money of UK aid and strengthen trust in the UK’s aid programme.
“But there is now concern that the transparency commitment has changed, and the presumption of disclosure weakened. It is time for FCDO to build on a decade of UK efforts and aim for higher standards in aid transparency. Key decisions that will be taken by the department later this year will determine whether the UK maintains its strong international reputation for aid transparency.”
ICAI’s review of the UK’s approach to aid transparency finds that the UK has played an important role internationally, through its efforts to promote transparency among delivery partners and multilateral agencies. The report highlights the UK’s instrumental role in establishing the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), the globally agreed standard for publishing aid information.
The aid watchdog’s report notes however that the FCDO’s two predecessor departments, that managed the majority of the UK’s aid budget until 2020, took very different approaches to aid transparency.
ICAI said the former-DFID published detailed statistics on aid spending and development results, and routinely published programme documents on an online portal called ‘DevTracker’. This resulted in the Aid Transparency Index declaring DFID to be the most transparent major provider of development assistance from 2012-2020.
In contrast, ICAI’s review notes the former Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) did not perform as well against aid transparency standards, publishing only summary programme information in most cases. While FCO improved its rating in the Aid Transparency Index from ‘poor’ (21.3%) in 2012 to ‘fair’ (48.6%) in 2020, it failed to achieve a rating of at least ‘good’ (60%-80%), which was a commitment set out in the 2015 UK aid strategy.
The newly formed FCDO was assessed by the Aid Transparency Index for the first time in 2022 and awarded a rating of ‘good’ (71.9%). This was lower than DFID’s ‘very good’ rating in 2020 (85.4%). ICAI stated that the drop in rating was concerning because more than 90% of the activities assessed were formerly managed by DFID, indicating a change in culture towards aid transparency in the new department.
ICAI’s review recognises that FCDO remains the fourth-most transparent major bilateral aid agency and could quickly achieve a ‘very good’ Index rating with targeted improvements. But it also points out that, despite notable recent declines in aid transparency, FCDO has merely committed to improve its score in the 2024 Aid Transparency Index, rather than committing to fully reverse the declines and regain global leadership on aid transparency. This is in stark contrast to the commitment made in the 2015 UK aid strategy to achieve a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ across all UK government aid spending departments.
ICAI’s review concludes by making four recommendations:
- FCDO should set out clear and ambitious standards for transparency to be applied to all aid portfolios (including arm’s-length bodies) through its unified systems, including default and timely publication of full programme documents, and a rigorous process for assessing, approving and reporting on exclusions.
- FCDO should commit to achieving a standard of ‘very good’ in the Aid Transparency Index by 2024.
- FCDO should resume publishing forward aid spending plans, cross-departmental development results and country aid priorities.
- In FCDO priority countries, the department should work with other donors to support greater use of IATI data and other aid information sources, to strengthen aid effectiveness and accountability.