UK might withhold aid in global transparency push

AP News
Posted: Sep 20, 2011 12:01 AM
UK might withhold aid in global transparency push

Britain might withhold future aid from countries that fail to detail how they spend international funds, a senior minister said ahead of talks Tuesday aimed at promoting government transparency.

Francis Maude, Britain's Cabinet Office minister, told The Associated Press that new conditions would be attached to parts of Britain's 8.4 billion pound ($13.2 billion) annual aid budget to encourage openness in developing nations.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to increase Britain's overseas aid spending over the next four years, even as he drives through a deficit-shredding program of 81 billion pounds ($132 billion) of spending cuts.

Maude said he would present Britain's plans to tie some aid funding to transparency initiatives at a meeting Tuesday in New York of the Open Government Partnership, a new grouping of countries pressing for increased government openness.

Britain will push for greater openness from nations who receive aid money, donors with poor records of disclosing where taxpayers' cash is spent and NGOs carrying out work funded by donor nations.

"Transparency in government helps accountability, it is the enemy of corruption and it can help to save lives," Maude told the AP by telephone from New York on Monday.

Despite some domestic criticism, Britain's coalition government has pledged to honor a commitment struck at a G-8 summit in 2005 to increase international aid spending to 0.7 percent of gross national income by 2013.

Cameron has repeatedly insisted it is vital to abide by the pledge. "When you make a promise like that to the poorest people in the world, you should keep it. And I am proud of the fact that Britain is doing just that," he said following a G-8 summit in May.

Maude said that Britain will consider whether a country is making progress on transparency before it approves budget support. Countries will need to show they are working on plans to release government data, introduce or implement freedom of information laws and disclose details of how foreign aid is spent.

"We will be making a judgment on how far they are making progress against that," Maude said.

Nations including Afghanistan, which received 133.4 million pounds ($208 million) in bilateral aid from Britain in 2009-2010, and Pakistan, which was given 140.4 million pounds ($220 million) in the same period, have previously been criticized over poor transparency standards.

Maude said greater accountability is necessary as Britain's aid spending comes under increasingly heavy scrutiny, allowing taxpayers a better understanding of where their money goes.

Britain's international development ministry already publishes details of projects funded by U.K. aid money since 2009. Other departments are scheduled to soon begin disclosing details of their aid spending.

The Open Government Partnership, which Maude said involves about 38 countries, was first announced in July by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and is supported by nations such as Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said the partnership would act as an independent watchdog to prove aid funds were being spent appropriately.

"The best way to demonstrate that aid works is to be open and transparent about how it is spent. We want to dispense with the power to sweep things under the carpet," Mitchell said in a statement.