Could it be that accountability is the single most important thing to focus on in international aid? If states, governments and private sector companies became accountable to their citizens, voters and workers, would community development and international aid efforts still be needed?
We often hear that aid is needed because states are not always accountable to their citizens – perhaps because of violent conflicts, natural disasters or corruption. Aid, the argument goes, can help to narrow these accountability gaps, either by supporting citizens where the government is not doing so, or by working with government institutions to encourage them towards more accountable governance. That aid is needed because some countries and peoples have exploited others unaccountably throughout history is rarely part of this narrative.
Accountability relationships play out in development practice and aid programmes in various ways. Official aid agencies and NGOs, for example, fund accountability and transparency programmes or initiatives with the objective of reforming governance practices they judge to be unaccountable. Aid agencies engage recipient governments in policy dialogue to try to persuade them to be more transparent and accountable to their citizens in their use of public funds and aid. Aid programmes are subject to monitoring, evaluation, impact assessment and reporting using a wide array of tools and standards, although few are designed to account to those citizens whose lives are meant to be improved by international aid.
When development aid is given, the tax-payers in aid-giving countries need to be reassured that those receiving it use it for its intended purpose. To ensure that this happens stringent reporting procedures are imposed on community groups and development NGOs. We might call this accounting for aid.
Only much more rarely do we hear of aid agencies that introduce special measures so that the recipients of their aid can hold them to account for their aid-giving practices. This, by contrast, is accountable aid.
Accountability and Transparency is further discussed by IDS fellow Rosie McGee and others on Duncan Green’s Blog From Poverty to Power.