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Dagfinn Høybråten Headshot

Transparency Is a Two-Way Window

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By Dagfinn Høybråten, Board Chair of the GAVI Alliance and Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, and Dr Richard Sezibera, Board Member of the GAVI Alliance and Secretary General of the East African Community.

As Global Transparency Week took place last week it was disheartening to see fresh accusations of corruption involving the use of development aid in an African state -- in this case Uganda. But while it is important to root out corruption in developing countries it is also worth remembering that by definition transparency should work both ways; that it is equally about holding wealthy nations and aid organizations to account.

For, while it is crucial to ensure that mechanisms are in place to prevent money and resources intended for those most in need from lining the pockets of corrupt officials, a surprisingly large number of donor organizations are also failing to deliver on their own aid transparency goals. Donors should certainly have visibility of how their money is being spent in order to maximize their impact, but so too should implementing countries have clarity beyond the high-level commitments and promises. Indeed we need to shed any antiquated paternalistic notions that donors know best and are beyond reproach, and work towards creating a level playing field of mutual openness and accountability.

That is a something we are now beginning to see, although according to the Aid Transparency Index -- a league table which ranks international organizations according to not just how much information organizations publish, but also how useful that information is -- we still have some way to go. In the latest report, which uses an approach involving 39 separate indicators that look at both an organization's overall commitment to aid, and specific information and the form in which it is made public published this week, more than half of the 67 organizations assessed still do not publish information according to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standard.

Some organizations, however, are faring better. High up the list is the GAVI Alliance, an organization with whom we are both very much involved, coming second only to the US Millennium Challenge Corporation, and closely followed by the UK's Department of International Development and the United Nations Development Programme. For GAVI's part the timing couldn't be more appropriate, coming as GAVI partners and donors met this week in Stockholm for its Mid-Term Review. In the true spirit of transparency, this is where, halfway through its funding cycle, GAVI reports back to its donors on the progress it has made in honouring its commitments.

However, rather than just highlighting its accomplishments, an intrinsic part of this process is to cast the spotlight on itself and flag the challenges GAVI is facing and ultimately needs to address. This kind of inherent openness and navel-gazing is aimed at self-improvement and is one of the reasons GAVI was ranked so highly by Publish What You Fund, the organization behind the Aid Transparency Index, scoring 87.3 percent. But while it is good to see organizations committed to openness receiving the recognition they deserve, this is not a competition. With only the four organizations already mentioned receiving a rating of "very good" our focus should be on increasing that number.

But how do we do that? According to Publish What You Fund it comes down to following a handful of basic principles that include being proactive about publishing information on aid, making it comprehensive, timely, accessible and comparable. Moreover, donor organizations should not only ensure that everyone can access this information, but they should also actively promote this right.

Despite the fact that African countries account for ten out of the worst 14 states for accepting bribes, according to a recent report by Transparency International, these principles are also equally at home in the South. They resonate, for example, with the core values of the East African Community, a regional intergovernmental organization made up of five African nations -- including the Republics of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, the United Republic of Tanzania and the Republic of Uganda -- all of whom are united in a common vision of a prosperous, competitive, secure, stable and politically united East Africa. And this is the point, that we all share a common goal of improvement.

Today transparency is higher on the global public policy agenda than ever before. It was a central theme of this year's G8 summit and is now widely viewed as a key pillar of development, and recognized as a necessary condition to enable effectiveness, accountability and social change. To create the trust necessary for lasting change, we first need to create more windows of transparency. But not just to scrutinize others; we need to be prepared and indeed welcome others to peer back at us through that same window.