Till Bruckner of the Transparency International asked for information on US Aid expenditures in the Republic of Georgia. Instead of a transparent documents showing how money is spent, Till instead received documents with many blacked out pages. Some of what was blacked out detailed money granted to well known NGOs like World Vision, CARE and CNFA.
From his Aid Watch blog post, Till Buckner gives this run down on who had nothing to hide and who did not.
Perhaps surprisingly, the United Nations showed the highest consistent commitment to transparency. The budgets of the two UN agencies funded by USAID are both reproduced in full.
UMCOR, Mercy Corps, and AIHA emerge as the most transparent NGOs. These charities apparently felt that they had nothing to hide, and did not request USAID to black out any of the information contained in their budgets.
In contrast, Save the Children apparently asked USAID to withhold all information related to salaries. As even the aggregate subtotals for international and national staff have been blacked out, concerns about the privacy of individual staff members cannot have been the sole concern driving the organization’s response. Still, the fact that all non-salary related budget lines remain visible put Save the Children in the middle ground in terms of NGO transparency.
CARE’s response is harder to interpret as USAID inexplicably sent only an aggregated “summary budget” that leaves little to conceal. What information exists shows that CARE did not object to the release of unit prices for supplementary food items, or of aggregated staff and operational support costs. In contrast, CARE appears to regard its “indirect cost rate” and “cost share” as confidential. To hide this information, USAID also had to black out the budget’s bottom line, thus leaving unclear how many taxpayer dollars were handed over in total.
The least transparent NGOs in this test are CNFA, World Vision, and Counterpart International. They apparently requested that USAID black out all information in their budgets except for the grand total. Apparently, these NGOs consider budget items such as “office furniture” (CNFA), “visibility items (t-shirts, caps, publications)” (World Vision) and “forklift expenses” (Counterpart) as confidential information whose release could cause them substantial competitive harm.