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g8-summit-obama-revolution
The G8 Summit provides a golden opportunity for G8 leaders to help inspire a “transparency revolution.” While the U.K. holds the presidency of the G8 this year with Prime Minister David Cameron as its representative, President Obama and the U.S. have the opportunity to make transparency a priority at the G8.

The Obama administration has been a global leader in tax transparency, requiring American citizens to disclose their foreign financial accounts, foreign financial institutions to report their American clients, and pressing other countries to share tax information in an effort to curb tax evasion.

At the G8 Summit, President Obama should work to ensure that developing countries are invited to participate in automatic tax information exchange systems, even if they currently lack the capacity to provide information themselves. The U.S. government should also commit to support foreign tax and revenue authorities in developing countries so that they can effectively use and share tax information in the future.

To both complement its efforts on tax transparency and to curb robbery by “phantom firms,” the Obama administration should also take meaningful steps to take the “anonymous” out of anonymous shell companies, fake corporations that serve as fronts for financing terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering and arms trafficking and that enable corruption and resource exploitation.

President Obama should reiterate his strong support for removing the veil of secrecy that enables phantom firms to operate and encourage other leaders to take bold steps. Greater transparency about who actually owns and controls companies would make it easier for developing countries to crack down on corruption and retain and invest more of their own resources.

The U.S. government has been a leader in transparency for the extractive industries by requiring oil, gas and mining companies to disclose their payments to governments. Measures like this help ensure that citizens of resource-rich countries have access to information necessary for holding their government accountable.

Just earlier this year, the European Parliament approved similar rules, and the Government of Canada announced its intent to follow suit, which is great news. The Obama administration should also encourage other governments – including Australia, Brazil, Japan, and South Africa – to implement similar rules and help set a new global transparency standard for the oil, gas and mining industries.

The Obama administration should further encourage African governments to become transparent in their foreign assistance, extractives, budgets and financial flows. To do this requires real progress on establishing open data standards and teaching citizens’ groups how to use data unleashed by the transparency revolution to hold their leaders accountable.

Finally, the U.S. government should commit to and establish local, multi-sector “transparency partnerships” with developing countries so that citizens and accountability institutions can use data to follow the money flowing in and out of their countries. This can strengthen accountability of the government and deliver improved development results.

Through these policies, the U.S. government can leverage the agenda so that the G8 can put into motion the transparency revolution that we need.

Matthew Jackoski

Sources: ONE, Thomson Reuters Foundation
Photo: The Guardian

London Hunger Summit Funds $4 Billion
The London Hunger Summit this year encouraged global leaders to take a stand on global hunger and poverty and make a difference. As a result, by the end of the day, $4 billion of funding had been secured to go towards ending hunger and malnutrition across the world. The Summit was a global accomplishment, with donations coming from businesses, governments, charities, and foundations in many countries.

The money will be distributed to several different causes, and some countries specified where they would like their donations to be spent. For example, Australia asked that their $40 million donations go towards improving nutrition in the Pacific Ocean area, and the British company Del Agua’s $670 million donations will be spent throughout the following years on providing clean drinking water in Rwanda.

However, even though raising $4 billion is a huge accomplishment, the U.K. can still improve to do even more for the world’s poor by more closely monitoring donations to determine where they are most needed. Some donors are not as transparent as they should be when they give back, so the U.K. doesn’t have the best data to learn where those donations are going and how much is actually making it to the people who need help. By monitoring how much money is given and which areas are receiving the help, the U.K. can decide which areas still need assistance, therefore maximizing efficiency and helping the most people possible.

Katie Brockman

Source Huffington Post, The Guardian

Michael TraffordIn order to address the issue of global poverty, Michael Trafford will be biking and skateboarding nearly 300 miles across Australia in July, making stops at local schools and community centers along the way.

Named Sk8 to the Finish, this 475 km campaign is intended to disseminate information in communities throughout Australia regarding global poverty and Australia’s responsibility toward developing nations.

Sk8 to the Finish aims to reduce poverty in three ways:

  1. By petitioning the Australian government to increase spending on foreign aid.
  2. By spending foreign aid more efficiently on programs that focus on saving lives.
  3. By requiring transparency from Australian businesses who trade overseas.

While this specific campaign is oriented toward the Australian government, the goal of Sk8 to the Finish can be applied to the entire developed world. More and more people throughout first world nations are realizing the benefits of contributing to developing nations. These benefits include an increase in the global economy and a heightened level of global peace. Sk8 to the Finish not only works toward these goals but also promotes a level of personal accountability for governmental progress toward these goals.

Through Sk8 to the Finish, Michael Trafford demonstrates an extreme level of personal responsibility for his government’s actions and movement toward a more developed and peaceful world.

– Pete Grapentien

Source: Gladstone Observer

AidData and China's Foreign Aid Policy
In the past decade, China has committed at least $75 billion to aid and development in Africa. Since 2000, there has been up to 1,700 projects, and China’s commitment to development in Africa stands as one of the strongest of any donor country. Research in the U.S. has created a large public database of these projects, named AidData, in order to analyze China’s efforts.

While this ongoing data collection could create debate over China’s interests in Africa, it is clear that Chinese engagement in the continent strengthened infrastructure, energy generation, and supply and communications. The ability to measure this aid will allow for transparency in China’s aid processes and strategies. Chinese aid is performed through direct investment “without state involvement and NGO aid” so that there is no middleman and the money can go directly where it is needed. However, this makes it more difficult to track where the money goes, and how it is used.

Ghana, Nigeria, and Sudan are the biggest aid recipients, receiving a quarter of a trillion dollars over the past 10 years. As was earlier mentioned, the biggest priority for Chinese aid is infrastructure. This means that empowering women, providing food aid, and creating education systems rank much lower on the priority list. AidData has suggested that because these are areas that the West tends to focus on the most, China has taken a different route.

In spite of this reasoning, according to AidData, China has backed hundreds of health, transport, and agricultural projects. Doctors and teachers have been sent into Africa as well, while African students have been encouraged to study in China. Some insist that China is only interested in the continent for its natural resources, yet it is clear that China is interested in supporting Africa for the future.

– Sarah Rybak

Sources: The Guardian, ONE
Photo: China Daily

Transparency
In John Tyler’s book “Transparency in Philanthropy,” the author discusses the idea of allowing the government to demand transparency among charities and other philanthropic organizations, and whether or not it would be beneficial to the charities and the people who support them. Tyler draws the seemingly paradoxical conclusion that “transparency is complicated” in his book, because even though transparency in charities can help make business processes simpler by removing secrets, it can also prove to be a challenge, especially if it is mandated and not voluntary.

Many organizations choose to be transparent in their work, and some philanthropic groups will readily supply all the numbers about how much they donated, received, paid in salaries, etc. This is a good thing because it 1) ensures that there are no secrets being kept behind closed doors about the donations, and 2) encourages trust. If people know where their money is going when they donate to a charity, they may be more likely to give and give more often. Tyler also mentions that foundations with stakeholders are legally obligated to share their information with them, but there is a difference between legal and social transparency.

There is a down-side to demanding transparency in the philanthropic sector, though. If the government demands a charity to be transparent, that means people can easily research to find these companies’ tax returns. While this may not seem like much of a problem, “in countries with weak rule of law, such information could be used to harass and pressure donors.” Then, because of these pressures, people are frightened away and donations dramatically decrease, which hurts everyone.

Philanthropic foundations are necessary to organize donations and charity around the world, and sometimes transparency is a good thing, especially when it’s voluntary. But at other times, it can lead to results that don’t help anyone.

Katie Brockman

Source: Forbes
Photo: FDA

iati_International_Aid_Transparency_Initiative

The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) offers a solution for those that assume corruption in developing countries prevent aid from reaching the most impoverished. The IATI makes information about aid spending easier to access, use, and understand through its website.

Developing countries face huge challenges in accessing up-to-date information about aid – information that they need to plan and manage those resources effectively. Similarly, citizens in developing countries and in donor countries lack the information they need to hold their governments accountable for the use of those resources.  In a foreword to the IATI 2012 annual report, UK Development Secretary Justine Greening MP says: “Transparency of aid flows is critical to good aid delivery. It helps reduce waste, fight corruption and makes sure money gets to the people who need it most.”

IATI is a voluntary, multi-stakeholder initiative that seeks to improve the transparency of aid in order to increase its effectiveness in tackling poverty. IATI brings together donors and developing countries, civil society organizations and other experts in aid information who are committed to working together to increase the transparency of aid.

Over 140 organizations are now publishing their data to the IATI in an open data platform that gives a timely, comprehensive and comparable picture of aid flows in order to improve accountability and impact.  Germany is the latest country to begin publishing its data in line with the IATI common standard, with Russia signaling its intention to join. Meanwhile IATI’s membership has grown to include 37 donor signatories who together represent 75% of global official development finance.

– Maria Caluag

Source: IATI

Where_Does_Aid_Money_go_UN_USAID_international_aid_fund_World_Bank_business_economy_microfinance_opt

The website AidData.org is designed to make it easier for researchers, reporters, and anyone else for that matter, to answer that question for themselves. Established in 2009 through a joint partnership of the College of William & Mary, Brigham Young University, and the nonprofit organization Development Gateway, the site provides a growing searchable database of global foreign aid distribution. It is all part of an effort to make hard data on the allocation of foreign aid money easier to obtain. For example, anyone who wants to know how much money the United States invested in Bangladesh for food security in 2009 can simply use the database filters and find the answer here.

The foreign aid information collected on AidData is not limited to the United States.  The site compiles information from countries across the globe, using data going back to 1945.  Users who want to know more about where foreign aid money goes can just as easily find out how much money Norway invested in Cambodia for health-related programs in 1996. Filters allow users to search by donor country, recipient country, type of program, and date.

The site was the brainchild of an undergraduate student at the College of William & Mary in 2003.  In researching his honors thesis on the distribution of foreign aid for environmental assistance, he found it extremely difficult to find specific numbers.  He got the idea to compile all of this information in a single database.  With help from three professors, he managed to secure a series of grants and partnerships that eventually led to the establishment of the AidData organization and website. To date, the site includes information on 3,000 aid projects in 144 recipient countries, for a total of about 35,000 locations across the globe.

According to AidData founders, the goal of this innovative initiative to increase transparency and accessibility of foreign aid data is to “improve the quality of research on aid allocation and aid effectiveness.” Because of AidData’s work, reliable answers to the question “where does foreign aid money go?” are now just a few keystrokes away on the web.

– Délice Williams

Source:Aid Data
Photo:USAID

Is Small-Scale Mining a Sustainable Livelihood?Artisanal or small-scale mining practices provide income to millions of the world’s poorest people. A lack of knowledge, policy, and regulation in the industry means that most small-scale miners operate illegally and without organization or oversight. A recent report by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) aims to shed some light on the issues of small-scale and artisanal mining.

Much small-scale mining takes place in remote areas with poor living and working conditions. It is known for its severe pollutant production and subjection of poor and marginalized workers, including women and children, to unsafe working conditions. However, since identifying areas for improvement in the industry, IIED hopes to work with policymakers to improve lives and local environmental impacts.

IIED will accomplish this by connecting miners, their families, and communities with other stakeholders, including authorities on the local, national, and international levels. The organization will gather information and data and coordinate with policymakers to foster dialogue and address challenges. The IIED believes that with greater transparency in the industry, small-scale mining can become a sustainable and safe livelihood for many.

Historically, governments and institutions have overlooked small-scale mining as an industry worth investigation, investment, or support, choosing instead to focus on large-scale mining and small-scale operations in other industries such as forestry and agriculture. Part of the reason for this is the stigma against small-scale mining as a problematic and undesirable practice. But neglecting the industry does nothing to improve its conditions. Authorities must recognize economic realities and focus on improving workers’ lives and working conditions.

The widespread practice of artisanal mining is driven in no small part by the global demand for minerals such as tin and tungsten, for use in gadgets like your smartphone. Despite the rapidly growing technology market, little progress has been made in developing sustainable mining practices over the last decade.

It is estimated that 20 to 30 million people derive the majority of their income from small-scale mining: ten times as many people as large-scale, industrial mining. The income from those 20-30 million supports an additional 100 million people. With so many people relying on these traditional practices for their livelihoods, more must be done in the sector to improve efficiency and working conditions, provide education and resources, and reduce negative environmental and health impacts.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: IIED, The Guardian
Photo: IIED

How To Stop Climate Finance CorruptionLast December, the non-governmental organization Transparency International released its Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) that documents levels of perceived public sector corruption in many countries. This document was published at the same time as the UN climate conference in Qatar. These two events are related because many of the countries with the highest ratings of corruption in the CPI are the countries that need the most urgent funding for climate change-resilient infrastructure. The United Nations cannot afford to let climate change finances be diverted by corruption. The two most important things to keep in mind when investing in climate finance are that anti-corruption is cheaper than corruption and that the time to act is now.

Taking climate funding away from corrupt countries and giving it to nations that are perceived to be less corrupt is not an option. The countries that were originally allocated funds during the UN conference need and deserve them. We must then focus on how to best reduce the corruption of climate financing in these poverty-stricken countries. This takes more money in the short-term but will pay off in the long run. Installing accountable policies, systems and personnel is an important step to making sure that the money is not squandered. The monetary gain of investing more money, in the beginning, is evident in a recent study of North Africa by the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis. In the current corrupt environment, a particular solar power project was projected to cost $2 trillion dollars. However, when they adjusted for a 5% reduction of corruption in the region, the price tag for the project dropped to $750 billion. This huge monetary difference, in the long run, would more than cover the necessary funds to set up a less corrupt system now.

There is no time to lose when installing anti-corruption systems. Climate finance initiatives are a new phenomenon. This makes it easier to tackle problems with corruption than it will ever be. If we can make sure that the system is as secure as possible in its infancy, then there will be no need to do the tedious business of trying to untangle and rebuild a system that never worked efficiently. The keys to fighting corruption are transparent payrolls, budgets and decision-makers, explanations of why decisions are made, input from citizens and monitoring by independent sources. These are technical necessities for an anti-corrupt system, but more importantly, there must be a political will to make them a reality. Climate finance could change the face of our future for the positive, but it is up to people and governments to invest in it.

– Sean Morales

Source: AlertNet
Photo: SABC News

William & Mary Discuss the AidData Centre for Development Policy
Financial foreign assistance is one of the most powerful ways that developed nations can help lower-income countries fight their ways through poverty, also yielding some of the most immediate results. That being said, many in aid-giving communities criticize foreign aid because there exists the idea that the money invested is wasted, used to line administrators’ pockets or be lackadaisically distributed to corrupt governments.

Futuregov estimates that annually, around $150 billion is contributed globally “to support human and socio-economic development worldwide.”

Given the global community’s demands for greater accountability and transparency in funding, the AidData Centre for Development Policy has been created as “a joint venture between the College of William & Mary, Development Gateway, Brigham Young University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Esri. The Centre’s work will initially be funded through a five-year $25 million cooperative agreement with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).”

The program will combine the efforts of experts in a menagerie of different fields to track and make public the effects of specific foreign aid projects. The purpose of the program assessments is also self-reflective; ideally, the more stringently programs are criticized, the less money will be needed to affect a large impact.

Hopefully, AidData will put USAID back on the map of the United States’ foreign policy agenda and silence the naysayers against providing money for foreign aid.

– Nina Narang

Source: futureGOV
Photo: The Flat Hat