Transparency matters

As part of the ongoing debate on transparency and accountability started over at Bill Easterly’s blog AidWatch, Roslyn Hees, Transparency International’s Senior Advisor for its Humanitarian Assistance Programme has written the following post. The contribution has also shortened in a comment on Tom Murphy’s post Transparencygate! over at the Huffington Post.

It is refreshing to see transparency and accountability being debated in the blogosphere and not limited to the policy circles where such debates are more common. At Transparency International, we have been very clear on what we recommend and why it is important in the fight against corruption. Early this year we published a handbook to prevent corruption in humanitarian operations, which endorses full transparency by aid agencies, with only one possible exception. The full manual is available for download online, but here is a direct quote:

Pg. 41: “Transparency involves opening up your organisation’s procedures and programmes to stakeholders… Transparency is indispensable for the effective monitoring of financial flows and programme implementation needed to deter and detect corruption. …  Publish timely information on all aspects of programming: Policies and budgets, resource allocation criteria, implementation details and actual expenditures should be made public, alongside targeting criteria, needs assessment information, programme locations, beneficiary lists and entitlements.”

We do not accept exceptions to this on the basis of company competitive advantage or even privacy (e.g. staff salaries), but only in the case of personal physical security, as the handbook says: “…if publishing financial information or distribution lists endangers staff or beneficiaries“.

However, it has been our experience in TI’s humanitarian assistance programme that a collaborative approach rather than a confrontational one gets better results in terms of achieving organisational transparency. In this spirit, the TI Handbook, which was developed in collaboration with several leading humanitarian aid organisations, compiles best practice from the field, including ways to track resources, confront extortion and prevent aid diversion.

For budgets overall to be transparent, data must be available, accessible, timely and comparable. If any of these conditions falter, then the whole aim of openness and access falters. This holds true whether it is about budget data from companies, government agencies, donors or non-governmental organisations.

TI and others have raised this point with oil and gas companies regarding their royalties to resource-rich countries, where competition often used as an excuse for opaqueness. It is an issue that we have taken up with bilateral and multilateral donors about being transparent on their anti-corruption policies and aid budgets.

There is no doubt that transparency matters.

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