This Week: A Two-Way Street for Transparency in Myanmar

Although President Obama’s State of the Union address was light on international development, he did choose to focus on several key areas including USAID’s growing involvement in Myanmar. The loosening of government control by the military junta has seen USAID commit to opening a new office in Yangon, while aid money begins to pour into the country. The World Bank also recently announced a $2 billion pledge to support Myanmar’s development projects.

This momentum, however, has raised concerns about the ongoing issue of corruption in the country. Transparency International recently rated Myanmar as 157 out of 175 countries on the 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index. While this is an improvement over Myanmar’s past ratings, corruption remains a huge hurdle to development efforts in the country. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim warned that Myanmar must demonstrate tangible evidence of progress on these issues or risk losing official development assistance.

Source: Transparency International. View the interactive 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index map here

Perhaps one possible step for Myanmar lies in transparency measures like the Open Government Partnership. The Open Government Partnership (OGP) now works with 62 countries to improve transparency and citizen engagement. Last week, it announced that its Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) will be producing 35 reports, which will evaluate new member states’ progress on their open government reform commitments. The IRM will assess countries that joined OGP in April 2012 during the Brasilia Summit, looking at their National Action Plans and the quality of interaction between civil society and national and local governments. The reports will be published in time to be included in the designing of the second National Action Plans, and OGP is working to build publicity at the national level in order for these recommendations to have their full impact. While Myanmar might not qualify right away, it’s a potential future step that can strengthen the country’s fledgling efforts.

Transparency goes both ways. As Myanmar begins to receive massive amounts of aid, it’s important to monitor where it’s going. The concern about Myanmar’s corruption comes as International Aid Transparency Initiative member states reaffirm their commitment to transparency and accountability goals. The open data movement continues to grow, with more countries releasing data on development finance and official development assistance - is it time for Myanmar to join the movement? Now, Publish What You Fund explains that with a variety of countries publishing data, the focus of the movement has shifted from getting donors to publish their budgets to ensuring that published data is useful for stakeholders and recipient governments. Transparency is only the first step - making sure the data is understandable and actionable is crucial for open data to have an impact. It’s something to keep in mind as the international community finally returns to Myanmar.

Kelsey Sakumoto is an intern with the AidData Communications & Policy Outreach team based at the College of William & Mary. 

Tags: MyanmarOGPState of the UnionPublish What You FundCorruption Perceptions IndexTransparency International