Armchair auditors

My day job is leading the aidinfo team working to improve the transparency of international aid. Why? Because we think that when aid is more transparent it will be more effectively used and it will help people in developing countries to hold their governments to account. We also believe that if taxpayers can see where aid is really going, and see what a difference it makes, they will support more of it.

So I was dead pleased to see this by David Cameron in today’s Guardian

Transparency tears down the hiding places for sleaze, overspending and corruption. Soon enough all MPs’ expenses are going to be published online for ¬≠everyone to see: I and the rest of the shadow cabinet are already doing it. And if we win the next election, we’re going to do the same for all other public servants earning over ¬£150,000. Just imagine the effect that an army of armchair auditors is going to have on those expense claims.

Indeed, the promise of public scrutiny is going to have a powerful effect on over-spending of any variety. A Conservative government will put all national spending over ¬£25,000 online for everyone to see, so citizens can hold the government to account for how their tax money is being spent. And we will extend this principle of transparency to every nook and cranny of politics and public life, because it’s one of the quickest and easiest ways to transfer power to the powerless and prevent waste, exploitation and abuse.

Yes, yes, and thrice yes, as Mark Kermode would say.

What’s more, with current technologies, we can do this quite easily, and unleash the creative power not only of armchair auditors, but of millions of people who are not in armchairs but are directly experiencing the effects of that spending and who can help us to understand what is working and how it can be made to work better.

4 thoughts on “Armchair auditors”

  1. How much do you want to bet that there will be a host of exceptions for expenditure that touches the ‘national interest’, or on ‘security and defense’, or similar categories — exactly where close scrutiny would do most good. Not that I am not happy with any initiative that would increase transparency, but I am more than a bit chary about Conservative posturing, and how they will (ab)use these exceptions.

  2. To draw a parrallel with the MP’s expenses; we could start by putting all expenses of UN staff online.

    Secondly, with aidinfo; please put a database online where all donors have to put in their budget allocations by sector, with planned objectives. Maybe then we can also get some coordination between major donors.

    1. Jur9en – that is exactly what we are working on doing – and with a lot more detail besides (eg geocoding specific activities).

      I also agree that all expenses of development agency and NGO staff should be posted online, as the claims are made.

      What’s more, I think we should develop a single database of everyone who receives a per diem or a sitting fee from a development organisation. I’ve got a nasty feeling that there are a lot of people making a lot of money from these, and some people may be claiming from more than one organisation for the same event. If aid agencies are going to continue with this practice, then the recipients should have to accept that everyone will know what they have been paid.

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