Go to the website of any aid agency and you’ll find a cornucopia of information about the good work that it is doing. The problem is that it doesn’t publish this information in a usable form. Visibility is not the same as transparency.
Members of the US Congress rightly complain that they cannot get a complete picture of US foreign assistance, which is delivered by 26 government agencies. As Congress has discovered, to get a complete picture of what the US is doing you need up-to-date, comprehensive data from each aid agency in a common format that enables it all to be added up, reconciled and compared. It is very welcome that the US government is putting a system in place to do this.
Now put yourself in the shoes of ministers or parliamentarians in a developing country. They face the same problem as members of Congress, writ large. Aid to their country is channelled through bilateral aid agencies, multilateral organisations and thousands of NGOs. Aid goes from one organisation to another – minus a “haircut” at each stage – before any services are provided to anyone. How can officials or MPs get useful, up-to-date, comprehensive information about all this spending and all these activities? Certainly not by trawling through thousands of separate donor websites.