Is the UK meeting its international commitments on aid effectiveness? by Nick Highton

The UK’s progress report on aid effectiveness, which received its official launch by DFID Ministers 1 September, must count as one of the more readable offerings sitting on the table this week in Accra, as ministers from over 100 counties gather to take stock of progress against the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness. For this accomplishment alone it deserves to be welcomed.
The progress report carries two hugely important messages – in appropriately visible script on the very first and last pages of this glossy 21 page document. Firstly, Accra is not just about the technicalities of an international agreement of interest only to aid practitioners. It is about the effectiveness of the international system as a whole. Secondly, the Paris Declaration is not just a technical agreement – it is a political agenda for action. As such, the report is not primarily aimed at aid agencies and their staff; rather, it is intended to be read – and judged by – politicians, civil society, custodians of tax payers’ money in rich countries (finance ministries and audit institutions) and private foundations.
A second reason to welcome this report is for the transparency (and precedence) it provides. While the Paris Declaration Monitoring Survey includes an appendix that lists aggregated scores for each participating donor, studies commissioned to measure progress are focused on recipient countries rather than donors. While there are clear reasons why country-level data is essential (the purpose of Paris is after all to increase development results on the ground), data on individual donor performance is also essential to make aid agencies more accountable.
Although some of the examples given in the report may seem selective (though they certainly make for a fascinating read) the document is reasonably candid about the UK`s successes and shortcomings in meeting the Paris declaration. We see that UK progress in meeting the commitments is generally good, but that there are important areas of weakness – especially important for an agency (DFID) claiming to act as `model` of aid effectiveness for the world to follow. For example, DFID’s use of country financial and procurement systems is actually falling – without clear explanation. And, while the UK is pushing for stronger commitments on predictability (disbursing aid on schedule) at Accra, DFID apparently faces `bottlenecks` in meeting even its existing – and relatively unstretching – commitments on predictability.

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