Beyond ‘Transparency for publicity’

Carrying on from the last post…one of the reasons Owen cites for the need for transparency is the donor’s desire to publicise the good work they are engaged in.

When it comes to aid projects, is there a danger that the call for transparency will reinforce the basic donor-need for flag-planting? I have visited many a countryside dotted by pillar after pillar, announcing the name of the benevolent donor that funded some plantation, some pond digging, some land levelling, some canal construction etc. Almost every water supply system or housing development is inaugurated and plaques unveiled so that the memories of the sponsor are etched in stone. I have been in meetings and received letters/emails where donors have taken pains to describe the exact size, shape, wording and imagery of these plaques/display boards.

In spite of being a sucker for greater transparency, such advertising bothers me, especially when it comes as one of the conditions for approval of grants in the first place. When I go out on the road next in Accra, do I really want to see which road was built by the MCC, which ones by the Chinese and so on?  

By the way, a good way to tell is this – if a road is under construction (and has been for over a year), then it must be MCC. If the road looks brand new and wasn’t there the last time you passed that area, it must be the Chinese! The MCC roads have huge billboards announcing all the details of the construction. Sure, while people plod through the rubble of roads under construction, they have plenty time to read the bill-boards. The Chinese on the other hand, don’t say much…

Well, in the first place, that is the wrong question to ask. What matters is not what I want to see or hear. What matters is what Ghanaians want to see. And what is that? I dont know. Ask them! That is the only way we can complete the transparency-accountability loop.

So, asking what information is relevant to local citizens is important. Asking also, how they want to see it is important. Clarifying what their choices are, once in possession of such information, is probably the most critical aspect – and one that will drive demand for better information in the first place.

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