Foreign assistance has come a long way in becoming much more transparent.  The idea, pushed by campaigns like Publish What You Fund and embodied in the International Aid Transparency Initiative, is that being more open about concessional aid will lead to less waste and more accountability. So what about non-concessional development finance? As the importance of development finance institutions (DFIs) grows, how transparent are they?

This is more than a question for nerdy researchers. DFIs are using public funds and supporting public policy by making investments in private companies in emerging economies. Knowing how and where these agencies are operating is fundamental to ensuring alignment with other goals and protecting taxpayer money. For example, the American DFI, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has been dogged by allegations of corporate welfare. By accessing all of OPIC’s publicly available data, we were able to investigate these charges in a data driven manner (Verdict: no.)

So we dug into publicly available project-level data for six of the largest DFIs.  Here’s what we found:

  • CDC Group (United Kingdom): CDC Group provides a definitive list of investments supported in annual reviews with limited information. They also have additional data in an investments database, but what is available is very limited and difficult to use, as it cannot be filtered by year or country. The CDC Group publishes data to IATI.
     
  • DEG (Germany): DEG provides topline country-by-country numbers on investments but no year-end list of projects. More detailed investment-level information is locked up in PDFs and only available for 2015 and 2016, and these figures do not add up to the topline numbers.
     
  • FMO (Netherlands): FMO publishes annual reports with topline numbers but not year-end project lists. FMO maintains a filterable, searchable project list, which appears to contain all publicly available data on projects dating back to 2012. As of January 2016, FMO is publishing data to IATI. FMO is also currently piloting an ex-ante disclosure program to disclose high-risk transactions earlier in the process.
     
  • IFC (World Bank): IFC offers detailed project-level data through an accessible and a user-friendly projects database. Unlike some of the bilateral DFIs, there is no definitive list of projects. There is also no data on the IFC’s Development Outcome Tracking System, which measures development impact.
     
  • OPIC (United States): OPIC provides a definitive list of all commitments since 2000 in their annual reports. Since 2009, OPIC has released PDF project summaries with project-level data, but its PDFs are not machine-readable, are unwieldly to analyze, and lack data from an internal development impact matrix. There is also a searchable project database, but we found it incomplete, prompting us to build our own OPIC Scraped Portfolio database.
     
  • Proparco (France): Proparco publishes annual reports with a list of all projects and basic project-level information along with a map of current projects.

Overall, the largest DFIs are getting more transparent, but still have quite a way to go. At the same time, DFIs are not the same as aid institutions, and not every detail of an investment can or should be published publicly due to the commercial nature of OPIC’s projects. We identified five potential standards of DFI transparency that we believe should be available and would help bolster accountability without raising concerns over commercial confidentiality.

  1. Definitive list: An annual list of all projects or investments.
  2. Historical data: Project data for at least five years.
  3. Project-level information: Detailed investment- or project-level information including a longer project description.
  4. Development impact data: Data on the projected and ex post impact of the project.
  5. Accessibility: All publicly available data can be found and analyzed through a user-friendly, machine-readable database.

Here’s how the six large DFIs scored on each of these standards:

 

DFI

Definitive List

Historical Data

Project-level Info

Development Impact

Accessibility

Score

IFC (World Bank)     3
OPIC (US)     3
CDC Group (UK)       2
FMO (Netherlands)       2
Proparco (France)       2
DEG (Germany)         1

 
The big takeaway: None of the DFIs are perfect and each has plenty of room to improve on transparency. Most of all, these agencies are all mandated to be catalyzing private investment to generate development impact like job creation and tax revenue. They each to varying degrees internally estimate and track such indicators. The public deserves to know how well they are doing.