An important effort for transparency is the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). Its Registry provides a gold standard for transparency, with international donors from across the globe including government agencies, multilateral donors, non-governmental organizations, and foundations having committed to posting their information to this single registry.  With this one-stop shop, comparisons can be made among donors and sectors to increase accountability and drive important management decisions. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton committed the United States to participation in this aid transparency initiative in late 2011 at the Fourth High Level Commission on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Korea.  Since then U.S. departments and agencies that provide foreign assistance have been working to share their data on the registry.  The work of both U.S. agencies and others around the world in posting their information is uneven though.  That is why in 2011 Publish What You Fund, the Global Campaign for Aid Transparency, began to provide an annual report ranking the largest donors on their progress.

The 2014 rankings provided a few surprises. The biggest surprise for me was the fact that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) earned the number one slot with a score of 96 percent.  I was floored. Among the indicators used to evaluate the donors is a commitment to aid transparency and the actual publication of aid information. Neither of these indicators was something I had associated with UNDP. One of my first assignments as a new staffer for Senator Lugar at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in early 2011 was to partner with our lead committee staff member responsible for health issues on a report on the need for the Global Fund to combat fraud in carrying out its work on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. We found that one of the biggest hurdles to the Global Fund’s work in this area was a lack of transparency by one of its key program implementers, the UNDP.  Often the UNDP was the Global Fund’s implementer of last resort, committing to work in areas of the world no one else was able or willing, thus making corruption, safety and other issues extremely challenging for the delivery of AIDS and other medications. Internal policies were preventing the UNDP from sharing its internal audit reports where problems in its programs were being uncovered and preventing the Global Fund from ensuring transparency and accountability in its programs.

In our report my colleague and I provided a number of reform recommendations for both the U.S. and the Global Fund to strengthen their systems and prevent abuse, many of which have been adopted. Still, for the UNDP to move from its role as a stumbling block to implementation of more open systems to achieving the top slot in both commitment to aid transparency and publication of aid information in just three years is indeed quite an accomplishment. In its news release regarding this year’s top ranking, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, shot straight with the following:

Transparency is key to our core mission…We are gratified to be recognized for our efforts to operate in an open, transparent manner. UNDP is committed to working in the open to spark innovation, to ensure the best possible use of funds entrusted to it and to accelerate the development of a sustainable future for all.

Administrator Clark’s statement stands tall with a laser focus on transparency – key to UNDP’s core mission.  Her words are not only impressive, but her commitment to them have unquestionably led the organization to its number one ranking by an outside observer. That’s leadership.

But what really caught my attention about the release was its last paragraph stating that UNDP

…also discloses its internal audit reports, and last year moved from annual budget reporting to publishing monthly reports, which detail activities and result frameworks using sub-national geographical data.

I remain floored by this statement. Those internal audit reports are the very ones the Global Fund – or anyone else for that matter - hadn’t been able to see back in 2011. Not only is UNDP being transparent about where it works in the world and what it is doing there, but it is also proving itself a leader in releasing audit reports as well as monthly budget reports. There is political will and leadership all over these statements.

That’s what it takes to move the needle on transparency, and that’s what UNDP has demonstrated it now has. 

Congratulations on a job well done, UNDP.