Foreign aid can be better spent: group

Canada should be more transparent about its foreign aid budget and spend those dollars more effectively, according to an aid group on Parliament Hill Monday.
Engineers Without Borders,a development group that works in Africa, continued its call for more effectiveness in foreign aid delivery on Tuesday, June 14, 2011. (Canadian Press)

Canada should be more transparent about its foreign aid budget and spend those dollars more effectively, according to an aid group on Parliament Hill Monday.

Representatives from Engineers Without Borders were meeting with MPs and held a news conference to push the government to sign on to the International Aid Transparency Initiative.

The British-led initiative is aiming to get donor countries and organizations to agree to common international standards for the publication of data on how their aid dollars are used.

James Haga, director of advocacy for the humanitarian development group, said the initiative would help Canadians know more about how their taxpayer dollars are spent in developing countries, and, would better inform the recipients of that aid about how money is being spent in their country.

"Citizens of developing countries of course are entitled to know how their aid is being spent in their country, something that is of great importance and is sorely lacking right now," Haga told a news conference on Parliament Hill.

A developing country may receive aid from dozens of different countries, each with their own methods for tracking the dollars and with different transparency requirements.

The International Aid Transparency Initiative would streamline what Haga described as "a massive bureaucratic headache."

"Putting in place a common standard will help reduce that redundancy, bureaucracy, help save people time and valuable resources to do their jobs much more effectively," he said.

The countries that join the initiative will agree to a set of common definitions and make data available and accessible in a consistent format, Haga said.

The signatories to date include Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland. The World Bank, European Commission and Asian Development Bank also support the campaign.

Engineers Without Borders says the federal government has made worthy strides in recent years to make Canada's foreign aid program, worth $5 billion, more effective.

"But at the moment, our assertion is that Canadian aid still has room to grow in its capacity to do things effectively and efficiently," said Haga.

The group estimates that it could cost anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000 for Canada to implement the international initiative, but the annual savings would be $7 million.

Liberal MP Mark Eyking, NDP MP Hélène Laverdière and Conservative MP Dean Allison all attended the news conference.

"I think the push for transparency is a worthy one," said Allison. He highlighted the information that is available on the website for the Canadian International Development Agency and advised Canadians to read about the projects that are funded.

He said the government is working towards the same goals as the international initiative that Engineers Without Borders wants it to join, but he indicated that CIDA isn't ready to join it yet.

"CIDA participated in the IATI discussions as an observer and closely monitors the progress of the IATI as it continues to evolve," he said.

The scope and feasibility for the IATI, and timelines for implementation are still being worked out by the participating countries and once they are, "they will be something that CIDA looks at closely," Allison said.

The call for more transparency and effectiveness in aid delivery Tuesday came on the same time that CIDA announced additional humanitarian aid for Libya, bringing the total contribution to $10.6 million.