Open the books on foreign aid

In early August of this year, I came to Washington, D.C. with the help of the humanitarian organization Oxfam America, to provide my perspective to policymakers on foreign aid to developing countries.

As a former public accountant, parliamentarian, and minister in Ghana, you could say I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly in foreign assistance.

Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe that poverty-fighting aid is crucial to countries like mine, but my experience has taught me that such assistance will only be sustainable when citizens in donor countries are assured that aid is effectively used and properly accounted for.

ADVERTISEMENT
Civil society in recipient countries must fight for accountability and transparency of poverty reducing aid in their respective countries, but we can’t do that without timely and comprehensive data on where U.S. aid dollars are going in their country.

Some donor agencies, including USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, do provide much needed information and data.  Unfortunately the publicly available information, in most cases, is not detailed enough nor released in a timely enough manner to be relevant for citizens in Ghana. And for civil society activists, like myself, in order to do our work to ensure foreign aid transparency and accountability, that information is power.  And such information is not always readily available within our own governments – indeed most times we are denied access to such data, making the data released by donors agencies the only information available to us.

But this could change dramatically should Congress do the right thing and pass the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-texas) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and just passed unanimously in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. The bill could literally open the books on U.S foreign aid and make sure U.S aid is working as well as it can to fight poverty.

Informed citizens, both here in the U.S. and in developing countries, can hold their government accountable on how foreign aid funds are spent. Organizing and providing data to meet the needs of civil society activists in their quest to monitor, evaluate and pronounce on the effective use of foreign assistance is key.

Civil society leaders like me are eagerly awaiting the opening of the books that the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act will bring from the world’s largest bilateral donor of poverty assistance. And when it does, many other donor countries will follow suit.

Kan-Dapaah is the co-founder and executive director of Financial Accountability & Transparency-Africa and former Ghanaian minister and parliamentarian.