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This is a joint posting with Ayah Mahgoub

The Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness held in Accra, Ghana has come to an end, with as many as 1,500 people (officials, advocates, activists) milling and talking. The conference was convened as a follow-up to the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, in which donors and recipients agreed on five major principles to improve foreign aid: recipient country ownership of programs and reforms funded by aid, alignment of donor programs to recipient country priorities, harmonization and coordination between donors, managing for results, and mutual accountability of both donors and recipients for achieving those results.

On all those goals, despite earnest commitments (and many small meetings) the donors as a group (the traditional official donors, mostly from the OECD countries plus the UN and multilateral banks) have made relatively little progress, although there were a few (small) steps in the right direction. Why? We think that's because the objectives are held in common (many "owners") so that no one agency or government or party is sufficiently accountable for progress. And because commitments to "ownership" and "alignment" are hard to quantify and measure.

Enlightened officialdom and outside observers hoped an outcome of the Accra meeting would be commitments that make various parties accountable and that are measurable.

We learned through Simon Maxwell of the Overseas Development Institute that tensions early in the conference centered on the level of specificity included in the text of the Accra Agenda -- the rumor is that two EU ministers advocated for the inclusion of stronger wording and concrete programs, while Japan and the United States preferred otherwise. But the ministers did approve a joint statement on the last day -- the Accra Agenda for Action.

Does the Accra Agenda for Action clarify donor accountability? Can donor progress against promised actions be measured? How did the progress made at Accra compare with the six steps advocated in Nancy Birdsall and Kate Vyborn'’s CGD Note entitled "A Little Less Talk: Six Steps to Get Some Action from the Accra Agenda"?

On tied aid, (step one), donors promised to untie aid to non-LDC HIPCs, evidently an extension of an earlier 2001 commitment. On making aid more transparent (step two), the communique is ambitious in principle but vague in specifics (see extract below). Absent: our simple proposal that donors report quarterly to each recipient country government what they spent. On technical assistance (step five), the language is good: "demand-driven" and use of local talent. The resolution on predictability of aid flows (step six) is far from what we could consider "ironclad," but the promises to report "full and timely information on annual commitments and actual disbursements" can at least be monitored, donor by donor, by third parties. Steps three and four -- making all evaluations public, and paying for outcomes not inputs -- were not addressed.

(PS -- Here's the language on transparency -- ambitious but vague:

"We will make aid more transparent. Developing countries will facilitate parliamentary oversight by implementing greater transparency in public financial management, including public disclosure of revenues, budgets, expenditures, procurement and audits. Donors will publicly disclose regular, detailed and timely information on volume, allocation and, when available, results of development expenditure to enable more accurate budget, accounting and audit by developing countries.")