Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Urking Oxfam (2)

Why can't Oxfam be open and transparent about where our money goes?

Moreover, why can't Oxfam live up to its own rhetoric?

Here is an example of the organisation's commitment regarding transparency and accountability, from its own Annual Report:
"We are working towards improved transparency and information sharing; more stakeholder participation in decisionmaking; and better evaluation and complaint mechanisms. Key stakeholders include the individuals and communities with whom we work; partners and allies; donors and supporters; staff, volunteers and the wider public; and regulatory bodies in the UK and in countries where we operate...Oxfam aims to be open and transparent with donors and supporters."
(Annual Report 2005-06, p. 25 and p. 26)
Oxfam is signatory to several standards as well, including the ImpAct Coalition, the INGO Accountability Charter and the Paris Declaration.

ImpACT (Accountability, Clarity and Transparency) is a "coalition of voluntary organisations [which] recognises that organisations must individually strive to be accountable and transparent". Its two principles are "Increase public understanding of our work and values" and "Communicate with clarity and openness". The Coalition's own FAQ document makes a good point: "Charities have nothing to hide from the general public. In fact, by giving people straight, honest answers, charities have everything to gain."

The INGO Accountability Charter, which Oxfam has also signed, puts transparency as one of its core principles: "We are committed to openness, transparency and honesty about our structures, mission, policies and activities. We will communicate actively to stakeholders about ourselves, and make information publicly available."

The Paris Declaration, signed by EURODAD (a collection of agencies which includes Oxfam), declared that "a major priority for partner countries and donors is to enhance mutual accountability and transparency in the use of development resources"

It seems clear from this Oxfam is under a duty to publish more information about its projects and activities. This would allow:
  • Members of the public to ensure their money was being spent in the best way possible
  • Other agencies to co-ordinate their aid flows
  • The recipients of aid to have a greater say about the help they receive.
Oxfam run a sophisticated programme-management system which would allow them to publish this information. All that they lack is the necessary will.

Urking Oxfam (1)

The impetus for this blog came from an unexpected and unsettling experience with Oxfam. In July 2007 I emailed them for a list of all the projects which they had funded in the tax year 2006-07 - so that I could see where in the world the money goes and what it goes towards.

But I was disappointed. The Supporter Relations department told me:
"If you have been unable to find the exact breakdown of our budgets and expenditure, then I'm afraid this information is not available to the public."

Looking harder I found that in their Annual Report for the 2005-06 tax year, Oxfam provide this pie chart...

...which indicates how £196.5 million was distributed between the five Oxfam aims - but it gives no more detail who is receiving the money or what they are doing with it.

The report states that over £40 million of the expenditure is made through grants (1,782 of them apparently) to other NGOs or other Oxfams. A quick analysis of the top 50 recipients reveals a pattern of expenditure as follows:

Oxfam regionGrants in £thousands
East Asia249
Southern Africa510
Central America, Mexico and Caribbean791
South America880
West Africa1,436
Middle East, Eastern europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States1,535
South Asia2,538
Horn, East and Central Africa3,708
Grand Total13,523

It is interesting to see how money is distributed around the world. But no meaningful conclusions can be drawn because these grants only represent a fraction of the total grants made in the year (about 12%) and most of Oxfam's money is not distributed through grants anyway.

In total, £176 million of Oxfam's income for the year came from voluntary sources (ordinary donations, legacies, public appeals, DEC appeals, the DfID PPA and other gifts). That's money that comes from you and me. In addition DfID and other public agencies (e.g. UN, European Union etc.) gave £48 million. That's also money that comes from you and me.

But as to what this money is actually spent on, we are left in the dark. There are no other details on:
  • Which organisations received grants from Oxfam
  • Where Oxfam's money was spent
  • On what activities Oxfam's money was spent
Why can't Oxfam be open and transparent about where our money goes?

Monday, 17 September 2007

What this blog is about

Welcome to Pop Goes The Weasel.

This blog is about transparency and accountability in the international aid and emergency relief sectors.

My impression is that although there have been many worthy pronouncements made on the subject, there has not so far been any real movement to make decision-making in international development transparent and accountable. Rarely are donors and aid recipients invited to have their say.

The hope is that together we can prompt charities, governments and multilateral institutions to act more responsibly with money which has been donated in good faith (or surrendered compulsorily through tax). Opening up the development sector, rather than being a threat to its integrity, will re-energise it and give it strength.