International development transparency gap revealed in new index

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The first ever transparency index of international development operations reveals big gap between public finance (sovereign) transparency and private-focused funding.

A new assessment of international development transparency by Publish What You Fund, the global campaign for aid and development transparency, has revealed relatively high transparency among a small number of multilateral development bank sovereign operations, but much lower scores for other organisations and activities.

The DFI Transparency Index 2023 assessed the extent of information made available on project funding across 30 operations with combined assets of $2tn.

The Asian Development Bank’s public sector (sovereign) funding topped the report’s league table for transparency in international development. All of the top scorers were multilateral development bank sovereign operations, with the African Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank placing second, third and fourth.

Scored on over 40 metrics spanning core and financial information publishing, the funds are also assessed on impact management, ESG and local accountability. The leading four will cast a familiar list – having been the highest scoring banks in last year’s separate Aid Transparency Index.

Director general of ADB’s strategy, policy, and partnerships department, Tomoyuki Kimura commented: “Transparency and accountability are at the heart of ADB’s mission to help its developing member countries in Asia and the Pacific to address their most pressing development challenges. We are proud that this commitment to transparency has been recognised and will study this report closely to identify how we can provide even more effective and efficient support to our region.”

Private funding far less transparent

Not all sovereign operations scored well in the index, but the final report reveals much lower transparency at even the most transparent private financing funds – including those run by the same banks. 

Only two private funding operations scored higher than 50% – the World Bank’s IFC and the African Development Bank. Domestic international development funds targeted at the private sector proved even less transparent, with the USA’s DFC and France’s Proparco the highest rated even with scores below 40%. Switzerland’s Sifem and Sweden’s Swedfund both scored below 20%.

Paul James, who researched and authored the report, said: “Multilateral and bilateral development banks are operating in the face of mounting and urgent global crises – from health to debt, food to climate. $2.4tn needs to be mobilised each year for climate finance alone, according to recent estimates. So it’s crucial that the investments of our financial institutions have the desired impact, and are effective in mobilising greater investments. The lack of transparency that the Index found on these issues is concerning. But we’re hopeful that DFIs will take on the actions we have highlighted and work with us to improve their transparency.”

Gary Forster, CEO of Publish What You Fund, said: “The launch of this report marks a moment of reckoning for DFIs and their shareholders. The mandates of DFIs – to build markets, drive impact and be socially responsible – require them to be transparent in order to demonstrate what is possible – to each other, to the market and to the communities where they operate.

“However, the dearth of information about impact, mobilisation and accountability to communities raises some serious questions about the difference these organisations are making and how effectively their capital is being applied. Meanwhile our work has shown that commercial confidentiality arguments need to be challenged as they are being used too liberally. The silver lining is the progress we’ve seen in the past year as leading DFIs have engaged with us to improve their disclosure.”