An extraordinary advertisement
containing layers of numeric analyses had covered
the electricity poles on Africa Avenue, one bright
day in September 2011. Walking to a special café to
nip a daily quota of macchiato, astonishment arose
from the rather rhetorical question written boldly
as a headline for the advertisement. Taking a closer
look led to surprise, as the announcement was a
budget performance disclosure by a local government.
Indeed, that happened in Ethiopia
not in Finland, which international organisations
hail as a haven of transparency. In its own way, the
effort transpires traditional attempts of
mainstreaming accountable governance in the face of
local economic growth. Amusingly, most international
rights advocacy organisations turn deaf ears towards
such local efforts and chant similar rhythms year in
and year out.
Years of public service can teach
one the hard fact that proving systemic transparency
for fixated donors is a daunting task. Issues of
governance and implementation capacity were the most
contentious aspects in aid negotiations. They
usually ended up using subjective indicators as
There were two conflicting thoughts
in the transparency agendas of donors. For some
experts, it was an indirect instrument of
subjugation for donors. It appeared after the
glaring failure of the structural adjustment
programme of the 1980s. Its crappiness originated
with its non-reciprocity.
Others bother less about its origin
than its purpose. No matter where it comes from,
they argue, it can be deployed to the benefit of aid
recipients. Yet, customisation is very important to
streamline it in local administration systems.
To a large extent, Ethiopian
government officials could be categorised under the
latter group. Dismayingly, most donors have no clear
line of argument on the issue. They rather wish to
play the card as a carrot for their pleasure or a
stick for their annoyance.
With the aggressive developmental
efforts of the Ethiopian government, however, most
donors have lost their game of twisting arms. It
seems that governmental strategies are thriving amid
the conflicting interests of donors, as the budget
disclosure effort rightly portrays.
In witnessing the new efforts of
local governments, therefore, the usual pessimism
suddenly disappeared. Realising the positive intent
and off-putting limitations of the state,
analogously, brought up the ideologically-driven
patrimonial rhetoric of donors.
Indeed, Ethiopians give little
attention to selling themselves and their
achievements. Their rich cultural wealth and
untapped social resources are regularly left for
loss, unnoticed. As often is the case, even rare
efforts of marketing focus on the superficial
elements rather than the substantial.
Local efforts of financial
disclosure are rare evidences against shouting
voices of poor governmental transparency. It marks
an important milestone in the developmental path of
the nation. It enshrines the social contract anew.
After the shattering of the
Washington consensus, a monumental declaration for
donors and aid agencies worldwide, the political
leverage of aid has declined. Ascending Asian and
African countries have the opportunity to write
their own developmental history with less external
interference. Yet, the fight has not yet ended.
In Ethiopia, the debate has
culminated with economic growth assuming the front
seat. It does not, however, overlook governance.
Instead, it customises it to local situations and
Even then, the significance of the
budget disclosure displayed in the centre of Addis
Abeba emanate from its theoretical foundations. If
it stems from the belief that transparency underlies
accountable governance and is, hence, a public
right, it is a million miles ahead in the
developmental discourse. In contrast, it could be a
million miles behind if it originates from a
campaign mentality adjusted to please donors.
As long as such localised efforts of
transparency receive attention, however, theoretical
origins might matter less. Societies could
progressively own the objective and demand it. They
could establish it under their norms and fight for
it. No lasting efforts of accountable governments
have succeeded without essential public ownership.
Yet, the stimulus has to come from
somewhere. Either governments or aid agencies should
bring the incentive. Rates of absorption,
nevertheless, vary. As with many other incentives,
governments have a better opportunity for success
As it appears, political ideologies
override the consistent dispute between
international rights advocacy organisations and the
government. While the government focuses on
aggregate improvements, the donors focus on singular
mishaps. So divergent are their approaches that
little room exists for appreciation of innovative
efforts, such as local level budget disclosures.
Apparently, marginal improvements
matter significantly for ordinary citizens. They
bring tangible improvements in service delivery.
They cut bureaucracy short, save time, reduce costs,
and ensure trust.
Skim through the accounts of the
local wereda, it is understood that much of the
budget is for capital investments. Yet, recurrent
expenses also take a significant share of the annual
budget. Little description, however, exists on the
developmental results achieved with the budget.
Even worse, the reports do not
reflect the change from the line item to programme
budgeting system that the nation has realised since
July 2011; they still involve earnings and spending
expressed in the line item system. Not in the least,
are they silent about the separate budget line
allocated for achieving the Millennium Development
But, the move to make budget
performances of local governments public is a step
in the right direction. It is a new height of
home-grown transparency. If, at all, donors are
genuine towards their agenda of non-reciprocal
transparency, they should recognise the changing