Accountability and Development Effectiveness: Assessing the Linkages

Melanie MirschBy Melanie Mirsch

Concerns about the need to strengthen accountability and increase the transparency of aid have become more prominent in recent years. Stronger accountability mechanisms are expected to have a positive influence on aid effectiveness by incentivising those responsible for implementing development interventions to provide better services. Accountability in development cooperation is, however, a complex issue because multiple stakeholders, who are often accountable to many different actors, are involved. In addition, the multitude of accountability relations can sometimes lead to conflicting demands and fosters inequality in terms of access to information and policy processes by domestic and international stakeholders.

This panel session presented three papers that analyse this overall theme from several different perspectives and angles. Sarah Holzapfel first presented her paper, titled “Agency-Level Performance Measurement Systems: Implications for Aid Effectiveness”. In the discussion, it was highlighted that it is important to keep the timeline in mind when collecting data on results as there is often a lapse between implementation and reporting. It was also questioned how donors validate the results as there are no independent institution checking the results, but instead the results are self-reported. Some indicators are being rechecked if they are surprisingly low/high, but generally the process of validation and aggregation is difficult. Moreover, existing efforts to harmonize the standard indicators were reviewed. The process of harmonization has just started – mainly among development banks – but it will be a long way to go. However, donors who are starting to introduce the system now are often asking for advice. In addition, it was questioned how donor agencies deal with the gap between the discourse and their methods or if they have realized the gap at all.

The second paper from Heiner Janus and Niels Keijzer was titled “All Hands off Deck? Navigating the Trade-Offs Between Result-Based Aid and Capacity Development Support”, and looked into how Result-Based Aid (RBA) and Capacity Development Support (CDS) interact at the conceptual and practical level. Participants observed that RBA can address problems existing with mainstream approaches to aid. It is also an attempt to transfer responsibility to the recipient governance, but it is, in addition, a transfer of risk. RBA is a step forward, but, so far, mostly on paper and their advantages are more difficult to realise in practice. Approaches to capacity development were also criticized because it often implies exporting western institutions and ideas. If the focus lays on results, donors should work with the institutions in the country. However, RBA can also free up the recipient partner to experiment and try other instruments to achieve the results. A limitation to this idea could be that partner know what donors are expecting and that they will react accordingly. In addition, the drivers of the decision to use RBA are likely to be the donors. This is driven by the domestic discourse and also by the assumptions about the ability of the partner country to achieve the results on their own. It was also reviewed whether the research about RBA is exclusively about the public sector or whether it can also be applied to the private sector. So far it has been focused at public sector and especially at those areas where it is easy to count results, e.g. health sector. Donors are still in the experimental phase, and so is academic research in this area.

The final paper from Haley J. Swedlund was titled “When Does Political Repression Lead to Cuts in Foreign Aid?” and deals with when, where and under what conditions donors are likely to sanction countries based on political transgressions. Results from a survey she conducted suggest that there are certain scenarios in which donors are much more likely to suspend aid than others, e.g. the risk for a suspension of aid is much higher when corruption occurs in a project supported by the donor than when a highly fraudulent election happen. However, corruption seems to be harder to detect while electoral fraud is easier to identify, especially with international election observation in the country. The discussion also dealt with the legal bases for suspension. Although the Heads of Cooperation – who were asked in the survey – cannot decide to suspend aid, they have experiences with their agencies and can therefore answer whether they think it is likely to happen. It was also asked whether it was always the same donor that would suspend aid for corruption or whether the picture was more complex. Moreover, it was questioned whether the suspension would be only for bi- and multilateral donors or whether it includes NGO or civil society. This would depend on the reason for the suspension, but in a case of corruption in the government it was considered that it would not make sense to punish NGOs and civil society.

Melanie Mirsch is student assistant at the German Development Institut/ Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), Bonn