Globally, the data revolution is underway – offering both policy makers and ordinary citizens unprecedented new opportunities to make informed decisions. The UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Post-2015 Development Agenda, in its 2013 Report, drew attention toward a number of transformational shifts that will be required for inclusive sustainable development through enhanced global partnership. In order to translate this vision into reality, goals or targets relating to development efforts will have to be rigorously monitored to assess impacts. The Secretary General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group (IEAG), in its A World that Counts Report published on November 6, 2014, underscores the need for data standards to facilitate openness, and specifically standards that accommodate open, disaggregated, accessible, timely and comparable data that caters to the needs of a wide range of users. This trend toward open data has gathered momentum following the realisation that transparency and mutual accountability are essential for effective development.
The issue came to the forefront during the third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra in 2008 and has been a prominent topic in the global aid effectiveness agenda since then. Keeping with this global trend, Bangladesh has become one of the few countries in the world to set up a locally developed online aid information platform called Bangladesh Aid Information Management System, or Bangladesh (AIMS) – a web-based software application that will help the country to track and manage its aid flows.
AIMS is a publicly accessible database that captures data on aid flows of a given country. This kind of online database helps both development partners and recipient countries to track where the aid is going, which groups in the society are getting benefits and what is being achieved. More importantly, it will provide a window into the channels of aid delivery and the overall quality of aid management in Bangladesh. The overall objective of such a database is to provide common aid data for government, development partners, CSOs and other stakeholders.
There has to be big bang for bucks if we want to have effective development partnerships. In order to make it happen, we need comprehensive, comparable, timely and easily accessible data on foreign assistance. This helps the government in coordination and planning while also allowing development partners to know how their assistance is being used for what purposes and the sector composition of investments. It helps civil society, media and academia to measure the quality of aid expenditure while critically analysing our efforts and providing pragmatic and honest suggestions to ensure better results of development partnerships. All of this will ensure a stronger impact of development efforts on the lives of the people. Transparency in aid management will also assist legislative oversights of public expenditure for development.
In the recent High Level Meeting on Effective Development Cooperation in Mexico earlier this year, countries reiterated to accelerate their efforts to fulfill the pledges made in various international forums to provide timely and forward-looking data so that the gains made on transparency at the global level get translated into real benefits at country level.
The same was also echoed in the “Joint Cooperation Strategy” signed in 2010 between the government of Bangladesh and major development partners. In addition, Bangladesh’s improvements in governance through the enactment of the Right to Information Act and the establishment of an Independent Information Commission has contributed to promoting data openness. Against this backdrop, Bangladesh decided to develop a home-grown, economical and technically robust database to manage aid.
There has to be big bang for bucks if we want to have effective development partnerships. In order to make it happen, we need comprehensive, comparable, timely and easily accessible data on foreign assistance.
It is satisfying to note that the response from our development partners since the establishment of AIMS is very encouraging. For the majority of donors on the system, we now have a quite comprehensive data set. It is expected that regular and timely data sharing on AIMS will ensure better availability of comprehensive, accurate and timely aid data to get a complete picture of aid flows. This will improve national budgeting and promote sector level alignment with national priorities spelled out in the 6th Five Year Plan.
Besides, through the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), a group of voluntary donors, recipients and civil society organisations has developed a global standard defining exactly the type of aid information that is needed to ensure effective development cooperation at country level. The Economic Relations Division with the support of IATI is preparing to implement automated data transfer in the near future.
Bangladesh aspires to become a middle-income country by 2021. To overcome the challenges of poverty, the core goal of our partnership should be achievement of substantive development results. It is essential that the development partners respect strong country ownership by ensuring alignment of their programmes with national priorities in different sectors and by using our country systems in respect of Public Financial Management (PFM) and Procurement. Sharing aid data through a national database is a part and parcel of ensuring country ownership.
Bangladesh AIMS is expected to play a key role in promoting effective development partnership in Bangladesh. It must be remembered that enhancing aid transparency and ensuring better aid management are joint responsibilities of the government and the development partners and by working together we can move faster towards that goal.
Mohammad Mejbahuddin is Secretary of the Economic Relations Division in the Government of Bangladesh and also a Steering Committee member of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation. The article was first published on The Daily Star – an English language newspaper in Bangladesh.