Former Afghan finance minister calls for greater foreign aid transparency

By Oxfam

WASHINGTON, DC – With the Obama Administration and Congress closer than ever before to reforming U.S. foreign aid, leaders including a former Afghan Finance Minister urged U.S. policymakers to give poor countries greater ownership of their own development.

In a second event co-hosted by Oxfam America and Foreign Policy that brought developing world leaders to DC to discuss improving U.S. foreign aid, Dr. Ashraf Ghani, who engineered Afghan economic reforms as finance minister under President Hamid Karzai, Orazio J. Bellettini, executive director of good government organization Grupo Faro in Ecuador, and Vivek Ramkumar, manager of the Open Budget Initiative at the International Budget Partnership highlighted the critical importance of transparency and predictability to overall aid effectiveness.

"American aid is too volatile,” said Dr. Ghani. “This is because it has to be approved by an annual Congressional budgetary process – approval is often delayed and money is then rushed to be spent. Predictability, through sharing information with governments, citizens and civil society, is the prerequisite to transparency and mutual accountability."

Since the first Oxfam-Foreign Policy event on the topic in July, the aid reform debate has accelerated.  In late-September, Oxfam released Ownership in Practice: The Key to Smart Development, a major report with policy recommendations calling for the U.S. to “strengthen the voice of poor people and the responsiveness of the state” as part of any aid reform effort.

The Obama Administration and Congress have also created unprecedented momentum for reform:

  • The White House launched its Presidential Study Directive on Global Development Policy in late August, which will review how cross-government departments can work together to develop and implement coordinated and sound development policy. The findings are due in January;
  • The State Department has moved forward with its Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, which would provide a blueprint for coordinated diplomatic and development efforts. The report is due next year;
  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved the bipartisan Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act of 2009 (S.1524), which would strengthen USAID and provide new accountability measure for aid; and,
  • Chairman Berman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs is leading an effort to rewrite the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.

Last week, the Obama Administration also took the long-awaited step of nominating an Administrator for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). If confirmed, the nominee, Dr. Rajiv Shah, would hopefully be the lead development voice in the foreign aid reform process and major foreign policy decisions by the Obama Administration.

“Leaders and citizens of developing countries want more ownership of the development process,” said Paul O’Brien, Oxfam America’s vice president of policy and advocacy. “For U.S. policymakers to transform U.S. development policy, they must increase aid transparency and deliver timely, predictable information to aid recipients. This would give them a real stake in building a better future for themselves.”

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