by Aniket Bhushan
Updated: Feb 4, 2020
GAC’s Statistical Report on International Assistance to Parliament is expected in March 2020. This year’s report is expected to be different in one key respect: enhanced transparency around the International Assistance Envelope (IAE) account.
Following adoption of the recommendations contained in the Budget Implementation Act (2019), GAC’s reporting obligations to Parliament have changed:
- The former ODA Accountability Act report (typically released in fall and would have been out in 2019 for the current cycle) has been dropped.
- Reporting is to be consolidated in an enhanced Statistical Report, which, for the first time, is expected to contain a new table/chapter providing a side-by-side view of the IAE budget alongside expenditure.
This is a welcome step towards greater transparency. The exact level of the IAE, the main source of Canadian development spending, is difficult (if not impossible) to pinpoint based on publicly available information.
Estimating the reference level requires combining data from different sources as we did in a recent report (see below). The analysis below projects the IAE will be approx. $6.1billion by 2023-24. As our projection required both IAE budget as well as expenditure data, we were forced to combine data that we know does not make for an apples-to-apples comparison. IAE budget data are drawn from Federal budget documents, while expenditure data are from Statistical reports.
This situation should be improved come the 2020 Statistical Report. If the report lives up to expectation, analysts, CSOs and advocates will be able to know the IAE reference level in a straightforward manner. That said, there are a few important issues to watch for:
Structure and breakdown
The treatment of the IAE structure and breakdown tends to be different in different sources. For e.g. budget documents take an input view, dividing the account into categories like: core development, international humanitarian assistance, international financial institutions. However, Statistical Reports breakdown programs funded by the IAE by government departments/agencies like: Global Affairs, Finance, IDRC etc. The two views are hard to reconcile and aren’t lined up in any official report.
CSOs and advocates should watch for whether new reporting helps bridge the two different views in any useful way. Certainly, this is something transparency advocates should demand.
Base vs. increments
Recent budget documents have been inconsistent in differentiating between the IAE “base” level vs. “increments” i.e. additional funds added to the base. For e.g. Budget 2017 p197 provided a graphic that distinguished between the IAE base vs. increases per year. However, none of the subsequent Budgets followed up on this, and each year the breakdown was presented somewhat differently (in some cases increments presented in a pie chart alongside other elements of the IAE structure, while in others increments were only listed in text or in the fiscal measures tables).
The key point CSOs and advocates should look for is whether the presentation of the IAE budget vs. expenditures clearly distinguishes which amounts are part of the “base” and which are part of “increments”.
Improved transparency should imply the future path of the IAE is clearer and more predictable. This is of keen interest to development CSOs and advocates. Here again recent reports have been very inconsistent – while Budget 2016 laid out somewhat of a timeseries, however other budgets and Statistical reports typically do not.
Watch for whether new reporting reflects on the future path of the IAE. This is important because since Budget 2018 the government has been adding to the IAE account, and continuing “increases every year towards 2030” was a platform commitment reiterated as the first action area in the Mandate Letter of the new minister. Yet, it is remarkable that little has been done to demonstrate how these commitments are taking shape with reference to actual IAE levels.