In 2014, France launched a drive for greater transparency in its official development assistance. But two years on, results have proved elusive, and France is still among Europe’s worst performers. EURACTIV France reports.
Regularly criticised for the lack of transparency in its official development assistance (ODA) programmes, Paris took steps in 2014 to bring its activities into line with international standards. So far, the results have not been convincing.
The French government launched the French aid to priority countries website in an attempt to improve the traceability of its ODA. The site was supposed to provide information on all financial aid packages of more than €100,000 to 16 priority African countries (Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Chad, etc.).
In practice, the aim was to allow the citizens of the countries concerned to follow the implementation of development and humanitarian projects financed by France.
The initiative itself was a good one, but the site quickly fell into disuse. In fact, it has not been updated since January 2015.
“We are behind with updating the aid transparency site, but we are working on updating the data,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. “The raw data is still available on data.gouv.”
The ministry blamed the delay on its workload, with extra work generated by the COP 21 climate conference in Paris last December and the drawing up of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These priorities ensured transparency was not a primary concern in 2015.
“But it also reflects a lack of political will, as France had made real commitments on transparency,” said Christian Reboul from Oxfam France.
The transparency website is due to become fully operational soon, with a large-scale data and an enlargement of the site’s remit to cover aid programmes in other countries. “In the second half of 2016, we are thinking of including other geographical areas, notably North and East Africa,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
But the website is not the only area in which France has failed to shine on the issue of aid transparency.
Paris was also heavily criticised in the 2016 aid transparency index, published by the NGO Publish What You Fund.
According to the report, the three French aid agencies have generally failed to respect their commitment to transparency, despite the fact that France holds the presidency of the Open Government Partnership in 2016.
The French Ministry for the Economy and Finance (MINEFI) is the country’s worst performing aid provider. At 44th position out of a total of 46, only China and the United Arab Emirates rank lower. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs ranks slightly higher, but in 36th place, it is still behind most of the other European aid agencies.
Finally, the French Development Agency (AFD), the main provider of French ODA, is the only one of the three to have improved its aid transparency. Between 2013 and 2016, the AFD moved up from the “very poor” to the “fair” category.
At a European level, Italy, Finland and Ireland are also lagging near the bottom of the class, while the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark, as well as the European institutions, are among the top performers.
The aid index points out that in order to comply with the standards of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), agencies must publish at least 80% of all their data.
This openness allows developing countries greater oversight of the foreign aid they receive, and encourages citizens to hold their leaders accountable.
“It is essential to have information on the kind of aid my country receives. This is what has increased transparency for our citizens and enabled them to demand clear accounts of public spending and the government’s decision-making process,” said Jeremiah Sam, the coordinator of the Penplusbytes project in Ghana, the leading institution promoting effective governance through technology in Africa.
Since 2013, France has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to the adoption of the international transparency standard. “But while France did begin to publish its data in the IATI format, the commitment was quickly forgotten,” said Reboul. “This is disappointing, because France now compares very poorly to a number of other international aid providers,” he added.
“The subject of aid transparency really has been put on the French agenda since 2013,” said Pauline Pruvost, from the NGO Global Health Advocates. “But it is difficult for France to catch up with the transparency champions like the UN agencies or certain other donors.”