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Story Publication logo November 30, 2012

Britain's Foreign Aid: Follow the Money

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Corruption remains a major impediment to development in poverty-blighted Kenya. Image by Sam Loewenberg, Kenya, 2012.

Foreign aid is notoriously difficult to assess. Aid money coming from wealthy countries is always larded with lofty rhetoric, but by the time it reaches the intended recipients in poor countries it may only be pennies on the dollar, if anything. A solution may be coming from across the Atlantic.

Justine Greening, Britain's secretary of state for international development, recently outlined a plan – published in The Guardian - to make foreign aid distributed by the UK's Department for International Development [DfID] more efficient and accountable.

Most significant is a new policy that will require any organization receiving DfID funding to disclose how the money was actually spent. The new rule appears to apply to NGOs, private contractors, and possibly even governments that receive DfID funds. Currently, said Owen Barder of the Center for Global Development, a Washington, D.C. think tank, it is nearly impossible for anybody - whether a government official, a citizen in a country that receives aid, a tax payer in a wealthy donor country, or even professional development analysts like Barder - to figure out what aid money is actually being spent on.

This new initiative puts pressure on other countries' aid agencies to be more accountable. Once the DfID rules go into place, "it wll be very hard for other countries and implementing partners to say that it is too difficult, too expensive to do this," said Barder.

A version of this story appeared in The Economist

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