Return to TransparencyGate: Humanitarian Accountability Partnership weighs in

Editor’s note: Aid Watch asked HAP for a contribution to the debate originally sparked by Till Bruckner’s post The accidental NGO and USAID transparency test. See below for a list of all related posts. The HAP (Humanitarian Accountability Partnership) Secretariat is encouraged that issues of NGO accountability are being discussed in fora such as this, and in particular that the debate is now going beyond the sector.

While public disclosure of financial information is not a requirement for HAP membership,  members and other aid organisations that apply for certification with the 2007 HAP Standard in Humanitarian Accountability and Quality Management are expected to make their humanitarian plans and progress reports available to key stakeholders. Humanitarian plans include the overall goals and objectives, the timeframe and linked financial summary. Progress reports include progress against the plan, including against the financial summary, and are communicated at time intervals suitable to the different audiences.

As part of the HAP certification process, the auditor notes commitments made by the organisation, including in relation to financial integrity and reviews the management system that supports the implementation of commitments. Specifically linked to the current discussion, the auditor also verifies that the organisation has in place an information policy that includes narrow criteria for non-disclosure, and reviews how the organisation shares financial summaries and progress reports.

Financial transparency is an important aspect of an organisation’s public accountability, recognised as such by various initiatives, including HAP. However, financial transparency is not a sufficient indicator of accountability, in particular of accountability to the group that matters most, the people whom an aid organisation aims to assist. Financial details alone do not reveal much about the quality of the services provided to communities: do the projects deliver good quality services that meet the communities’ needs? Are the interventions appropriate in the specific context? Is the population that the organisation is aiming to assist included in the design and implementation of programmes? Are communities satisfied with programme delivery? Are they able to provide feedback and affect the way in which organisations that affect their lives work? Are they able to raise complaints and receive a response when programming is poor?  And last but not least: are organisations continuously improving the way in which they operate to best serve the needs of those they aim to assist?

The fact that an agency may not make its financial information publicly available at all times does not necessarily mean that it is not transparent or that it lacks accountability. There may be significant risks associated with sharing such information in certain contexts, in which case the organisation should provide a justification for non-disclosure.

Related posts:

The accidental NGO and USAID transparency test Till Bruckner Responds to Critics on Meaningful Transparency NGO Response: CNFA Reaffirms Commitment to Transparency World Vision responds on transparency USAID and NGO transparency: When in doubt, hide the data Response from Mercy Corps on Transparency NGO Transparency: Counterpart International to release budget Transparency International clarifies the debate, deplores attacks on Till Bruckner Statement from CARE on Bruckner FOIA Request