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A Guide to Open Government and the Coronavirus: International Aid

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The COVID-19 pandemic has strained healthcare systems, weakened economies, and deepened inequalities. In response, development partners are mobilizing assistance through grants, loans, debt relief, and other forms of official development assistance (ODA). Since the crisis began, multilateral and bilateral donors, development financial institutions, and private foundations have announced pledges and commitments amounting to billions of dollars to help countries respond to the pandemic.

Aid transparency is critical to improving donor coordination, which allows donors to avoid duplication of efforts and identify critical gaps. Moreover, it enables recipients to observe the amount and allocation of aid coming into their countries, allowing them to better allocate their own resources. While important, it is critical that donors and recipients also go beyond transparency to create mechanisms for accountability and participation within aid processes.

Government use of accountability mechanisms, such as legislative and public oversight and whistleblower protections can help detect mismanagement, misuse, and leakages of donor resources. Donors should involve both governments and civil society in allocation decisions to ensure that assistance is mobilized for the most critical and vulnerable sectors and populations.

Twenty-one OGP members have made 55 commitments related to international aid in OGP since 2011.

Recommendations

Open Response

Open response measures place transparency, accountability, and participation at the center of immediate government efforts to curb contagion and provide emergency assistance. 

The following recommendations specifically highlight open government measures related to international aid.

Donor Agencies and Governments

  • Open data: Publish timely (at least monthly) open data on pledges, commitments, planned disbursements and disbursements in line with aid information standards, in machine-readable formats and under an open license. Distinguish between new pledges and commitments and redeployment of existing pledges and commitments.
  • Comprehensive information: Publish information on terms and conditions, when, where and how the resources will be spent (direct budget support, grants, loans, debt relief, blended finance, humanitarian assistance, direct procurement), information on recipients, implementing partners, contractors and subcontractors. Publish a clear timeline by which data currently not available will be published online.
  • International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) publication: Register all aid information on the international registry and follow guidance on publishing COVID-19-related data.
  • Ex-ante open government provisions: Establish clear standards for recipients for tracking and reporting on allocation and use of aid, requiring all information to be made publicly available on a timely basis, using machine-readable open data where possible. Additionally, set clear provisions requiring recipients to follow recommended best practices on public procurement, fiscal openness, anti-corruption measures, whistleblower protections, and protecting civic space. Establish similar standards for implementing partners, contractors and subcontractors.
  • Stakeholder engagement and safeguards: Engage civil society and other relevant stakeholders in recipient countries in decision-making on where and how to allocate assistance and on ensuring that appropriate social safeguards are in place.

Recipient Governments

  • Open data: Publish timely (at least monthly) information on all aid commitments, receipts, and expenditures.
  • Comprehensive information: Publish comprehensive information that includes on-budget and off-budget, humanitarian aid, aid from donors who are not in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee, and other financing streams. Publish a clear timeline by which data not available will be published online.
  • Open procurement and budgets, whistleblower protections and anti-corruption measures: Follow recommendations for public procurement, fiscal openness, whistleblower protections and best practices on anti-corruption for response measures enabled by aid.
  • Multi-stakeholder coordination mechanisms: Establish coordination mechanisms with different line ministries, civil society groups and other relevant stakeholders for quick decision-making for allocation of aid, streamlining aid information from different sources and ensuring that the appropriate social safeguards are in place.

Open Recovery and Reform

Open recovery measures place transparency, accountability, and participation at the center of medium-term government efforts to rebuild in the wake of COVID-19. Similarly, open reform initiatives ensure the public is at the heart of government in the post-pandemic world.

Donor Agencies and Governments

  • Risk assessments and safeguards: Conduct environmental and social risk assessments and ensure safeguards are in place. Make this information publicly available.
  • Open audits and evaluation: Conduct and publish ex-post independent audits of spending and results, evaluation of impacts, and progress towards fulfillment of conditions for all COVID-19 assistance
  • Proactive publication: Build systems to collect and publish aid information that is not available.
  • Harmonized categorization: Ensure aid information is aligned with recipient country budget classifications (including for off-budget aid) to enable better tracking of flows.
  • Uniform requirements: Extend implementation of best practice on aid transparency to contractors, grantees, implementing partners (including multilaterals, private companies, and NGO grantees and contractors).
  • Setting transparency and accountability standards for aid spent through private sector instruments or blended finance, building on existing standards: Work with donors and recipients to establish and implement standards on transparency (where aid goes, what aid is spent on, and results accomplished), accountability , and grievance redressal mechanisms for aid spent through private sector or blended finance instruments (i.e. blending concessional official development assistance funding with commercial funds).
  • Data use: Foster use of aid information at donor and recipient country level, within both government and civil society.
  • Ex-post analysis: Coordinate with donors and recipients to conduct ex-post analysis of lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis and share recommendations on mobilizing assistance for future crises.

Recipient Governments

  • Link aid information with country systems: Build systems to link aid information systems to budget, accounting and audit, and procurement systems and ensure transparency of information. Establish financial management systems for tracking expenditures if these do not exist. Integrate data published by donors in IATI into aid information management systems and provide feedback on data quality and comprehensiveness.
  • Public monitoring and social audits: Make use of public monitoring systems, social audits, and beneficiary reporting to facilitate better information and course correction on aid utilization.
  • Open audits: Conduct and publish ex-post independent audits of spending and results, evaluation of impacts, and progress towards fulfillment of conditions for all COVID-19 assistance received.
  • Parliamentary oversight: Publish aid information in a budget annex or equivalent to ensure parliamentary oversight.
  • Data Use: Promote public participation and engagement on allocation of aid and use of aid data.

Examples

The following examples are recent initiatives in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and are drawn from our crowdsourced list as well as partner materials.

  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is working on measures to promote transparency and accountability, and ensure its resources are used for their intended purpose, including: 1) Asking member authorities to commit in their letters of intent to ensure that emergency assistance is used for the very urgent purpose of resolving the current crisis and not diverted for other purposes. Letters of intent are published by the member country and are also available on the IMF website; 2) Assessing which public financial management, anti-corruption, and anti-money laundering measures we can ask members to put in place without unduly delaying urgently-needed disbursements. For example, the IMF has asked member countries requesting emergency assistance to commit to (i) enhanced reporting of crisis-related spending; (ii) undertaking and publishing independent ex-post audits of crisis-related spending; (iii) ensuring procurement transparency by, for example, publishing procurement contracts; and/or (iv) preventing conflicts of interest and corruption by publishing the beneficial ownership information of firms awarded procurement contracts.
  • In the Philippines, The Department of National Defense (DND) through the Office of Civil Defense – National Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), has started publishing the status of donations received for COVID-19 response.
  • The IATI Humanitarian Data Portal contains summary information about the publication of data on humanitarian projects by different organizations.

The following examples are commitments previously made by OGP members that demonstrate elements of the recommendations made above.

Donor agencies and governments

  • United Kingdom (2013-2015): Committed to providing open, comprehensive, comparable and re-usable aid data.
  • Germany (2017-2019): Committed to engaging civil society and government ministries to identify how to improve aid transparency.
  • Canada (2012-2014): Partnered with the International Aid Transparency Initiative to publish aid data.
  • France (2018-2020): Committed to improving the scope and clarity of published aid data.
  • Spain (2012-2014): Created a process to publish official development assistance.

Recipient governments

  • Slovak Republic (2017-2019): Committed to publishing funds received by the central government from donors.
  • Italy (2016-2018): Expanded the Opencoesione open data portal to include information on programming and funding decisions.
  • North Macedonia (2016-2018): Committed to publishing funds received by the central government from donors.
  • Mongolia (2014-2016): Committed to publishing information about foreign loans assistance, including specific programs, contracts, and terms of the loan.

Resources

Partners who can
provide further support and information

Thank you to our partners at the International Aid Transparency Initiative, Publish What You Fund, and to Mark Brough for sharing recommendations and reviewing this module.

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