Transparency in the Aid Business

I listened to this File on 4 programme  about the aid business last night.

Quite extraordinary.  It was almost enough to make me vote UKIP.

No one who has travelled or worked in any developing country will be surprised at the stories of corruption.  It’s how things get done.  Yes, we all know that we shouldn’t. You get pulled over for a traffic offence you didn’t commit because you’re a white guy in a car. You can pay the bribe to the traffic policeman, or you can protest your innocence while your car is impounded and your day is ruined and you face paying ever higher bribes to end the whole nightmare. And that little bribe to the traffic policeman, well, it’s a tip really.  In Nigerian English, it’s the same word: dash.  You dash the waiter and you dash the traffic cop.

But everyone knows that corruption is the single factor, above all else, that prevents these nations realising their potential.  Reducing it is essential if the aid budget is to have any effect. We know why it’s there – complex reasons of different loyalties to family and tribe, inadequate official salaries – but we wring our hands and continue our complicity.

The one thing that makes corruption easy is the proliferation of secret deals. We should not be complicit in any secret deals.

Solutions are complex, but they start at home and all involve transparency.  Let me get this clear: transparency means publishing loads of stuff.  In particular, contracts and accounts.  Publish exactly who gets the money  and exactly what it is spend on.  Publish all the project details, the project assessment criteria and the project assessment results.

Transparency isn’t what someone who had worked for the body that regulates DfIDs projects said. He used the word in relation to them being transparent to the aid providers (but not the rest of the world) about the criteria on which projects are assessed. That’s weaselly dilution of an important concept.

Publish, publish, publish. No secret deals, particularly in the aid sector.

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