Foreign aid is influential public money that affects the future of the people in a post-conflict situation and in a least developed country (LDC) like Nepal. It has the power to transform citizens’ lives and open up avenues for transformation. However, its potential has not been fully realised in Nepal, which has had limited developmental outcomes and effectiveness. With this, aid governance has gradually emerged as a critical issue in Nepal’s public debate. Development assistance is inextricably linked to citizen’s interest and concern and development needs of a country, so the donors and recipients should be sensitive about how such assistance is utilised.
It is an issue where transparency and an accountability mechanism must be adopted by the donor community so as to serve with commitment for development effectiveness. Public understanding of where and how aid is spent largely depends on what kind of aid transparency and accountability mechanism is in place. It is basically about constructively engaging citizens in promoting aid transparency.
The more a citizens’ friendly information mechanism is enforced to reach out to the right-holders, the more civic engagement it can draw. So, better access to aid information is a key to enabling citizens to influence aid policies and spending for positive impacts on their economic and social lives.
To make it happen, the donor agencies should themselves take the bold initiative to develop and enforce an easy, accessible and standard outreach mechanism to share the information. It would avert possible duplication of development interventions and ease coordination among the donors, thereby yielding maximum outcomes and impact even with the limited resources.
Unless an accountability mechanism is realised in practice to engage people through public debate, it will merely be wasteful spending of money in the name of the people. Therefore, it is important to have a system to impart information on the project and budget, strategic policy, plan and programmes and relevant comprehensive details in line with their commitment/obligation to transparency, accountability and effectiveness.
Another important area is taking the aid debate to the grassroots level to ensure a wider spectrum of civic engagement on the issue of public money to be spent for them. Imparting information on public money and its spending areas are crucial to making the issue a part of the public debate.
Hence, producing complete, coherent and consistent aid data, and presenting and disseminating them in a non-technical and understandable format hold wider significance in facilitating the process. In the Nepalese context, producing and publishing bulky books and pdf files and making them public through e-mail and the Internet will make no sense. Since limited penetration of the Internet and non-simplified presentation of information/data will only confuse the people, the information publishing system should be such as to make aid information easier to access, use and understand.
In this context, adoption of the constitutionally guaranteed Right to Information (RTI) could be the right move in promoting transparency at all levels. The RTI Act, which has come into effect in Nepal since August 2007, has defined donor communities as ‘Public Agency’. Public access to information on the funding of allocation, partner selection, project design, implementation and monitoring of the donors and recipients holds much water in measuring the level of transparency and monitor the performance of the donors/implementing agencies.
Conversely, the legal arrangement has not been abided by the donors in disclosing information for transparent aid governance. The Act has specified a provision of proactive disclosure of information by public agencies every three months, however, its implementation is still a far cry. The thrust of the routine disclosure of public information lies in increasing people’s participation in the development process and creating an obligation for the supply side of information.
Recognising the essence of aid transparency, various initiatives have been promoted in the international arena to reinforce commitment, action and innovation for the common cause of aid transparency and effectiveness. Among such initiatives snowballing into a global campaign are the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), Publish What You Fund Campaign, Open Government Partnership (OGP) and AidInfo, which have all laid emphasis on disclosure of aid information in a quick, easy and cheap manner to promote openness and establish a system of transparency.
Set an example
Indeed, strong compliance with the national and international legal frameworks on improving aid transparency would bolster the international donor communities’ ability to achieve joint development targets such as MDGs and implement conventions, covenants and treaties. So, it is an opportune moment for the stakeholders, including the donors and beneficiaries, to take the initiative to cash in on the opportunity to set Nepal as an example on aid transparency and replicate its best practices in the rest of the world. This could be realised by establishing the shared principle of ‘transparent practices form the basis for enhanced accountability’ put forward by the recent Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Bussan, Korea.