Sun, Mar 02, 2014 - Page 3 News List

Health experts urge visibility in foreign aid

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

Public health experts are calling for transparency of the financial flow of Taiwan’s aid to low-income and developing countries, saying that opacity can hurt both the donor and the recipient countries in holding their governments accountable for resource allocation and use.

In the latest issue of the Taiwan Journal of Public Health, Center for Global Development research fellow Victoria Fan (范懿熙) and Tsai Feng-jen (蔡奉真) of Taipei Medical University said Taiwan’s official development assistance (ODA) as a proportion of GDP is low in both absolute and relative terms and attributed the low level to two likely factors.

The researchers said Taiwan’s ODA in 2008, the last figures publicly available, amounted to about US$430 million, or 0.11 percent of gross national income, which is “far below a UN standard of 0.7 percent” and places Taiwan at the bottom on the index compared to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, “below Greece, Italy and South Korea.”

One of the two possible explanations given for the low level is Taiwan’s delicate international political standing, which has resulted in a limited number of countries with whom Taiwan shares formal diplomatic relations.

The authors suggested that being short of diplomatic allies and a possible agreement with China not to engage in diplomatic activities in countries with which Taiwan lacks formal relations have made the country’s low financial output in terms of foreign aid a reasonable outcome.

However, they said that underlying the speculation about Taiwan’s ODA is “a troubling fact of opacity and lack of transparency” regarding the relevant information.

Fan and Tsai suggest that the opacity has contributed to Taiwan’s low level of foreign aid by stressing that little is publicly known about the financial flows of Taiwan’s ODA and development assistance for health (DAH) apart from occasional reports by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose latest update on ODA was in 2009.

That Taiwan is not a member of the OECD and thereby not listed in the latter’s Development Assistance Committee Creditor Reporting System, the most comprehensive international database of foreign aid flows, is not “a sufficient reason to withhold such data,” they said.

“It could be and has been argued that, because of Taiwan’s absence from international databases, the justification for making Taiwan’s data available — at least on its own governmental Web sites — is even stronger,” they said.

The public health experts emphasized that the benefits of public reporting and transparency of aid have long been well articulated and accepted.

Not only can developing countries plan and manage resources more effectively with up-to-date information about the aid, citizens of both recipient and donor countries — equipped with the information — can also hold their governments accountable for the use of the resources.

Despite the passing of the International Cooperation and Development Act (國際合作發展法) in 2009 and the institution of regulations on public disclosure of timely information regarding projects of international cooperation and development, “the financial flows and results of Taiwan’s ODA or DAH are still opaque to the public,” Fan and Tsai said.

Considering the benefits of transparency and Taiwan’s political isolation, “making [Taiwan’s] data and information publicly available is one strategy to raise its international profile,” the authors said.

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