Improve transparency in arms exports and refugee costs

A new report from the organization Open Government Partership shows that Sweden has made great progress in terms of transparency in development assistance. At the same time, there is a lack of sufficient transparency in arms exports, refugee costs and tax-financed development assistance projects carried out by the business community, writes researcher Alina Östling.

Open Government Partnership (OGP) is an international initiative that promotes openness, civic influence and better governance with the help of new technology. The number of members of the OGP has increased from 8 to 69 countries in just five years. Member States must make concrete commitments to increase transparency in public administration - commitments which are then evaluated by independent researchers every two years. The newcomer OGPevaluation shows that Sweden, which is otherwise at the forefront of transparency, accountability, technology and innovation, has a limited level of ambition when it comes to open administration.

Sweden is usually ranked highly in international indices for civil liberties, e-government and open data. Sweden has also made significant progress in terms of transparency in development assistance, as shown by both the OGP evaluation and the high ranking of the Aid Transparency Index. However, the degree of transparency varies greatly in development aid and other policy areas.

Make arms deals more public

At the same time as Sweden is one of the world's foremost democracies and donors, it is also the world's twelfth largest arms exporter. In 2014, Sweden sold weapons worth SEK 8 billion to 54 countries, and then also to non-democratic states that violate human rights. The limited openness regarding arms exports has recently been debated in detail in Sweden.

In June 2015, a report was released from a cross-party parliamentary inquiry into the arms trade. The report recommends that Sweden use a "democracy criterion". This would mean that the assessment of each potential buyer country takes into account whether the country has democratic institutions in place and how well these function. New arms export legislation is expected to be completed later this year and it remains to be seen whether the recommendations will have any impact on export practices.

To improve the degree of transparency in arms deals, the OGP evaluation, in agreement with several Swedish civil society organizations, proposes that Sweden undertake to implement a number of concrete measures. In particular, it is important to publish information on how members of the Swedish Export Control Council (EKR) vote and how the Swedish Inspectorate for Strategic Products (ISP) makes its assessment in individual arms deals, but also to require authorities to carry out risk analyzes in connection with arms exports.

Let us follow refugee costs from decision to follow-up

Sweden has made great progress in terms of transparency in development assistance, but there is still room for improvement. In particular, greater transparency is required regarding settlements for refugee costs in the development assistance budget and around development assistance projects involving companies. In recent times, more and more tax-financed development assistance projects have been implemented by the business community. At the same time, it is unclear whether these efforts contribute to sustainable development for people living in poverty, which is the overall goal of Swedish development aid policy. The OGP evaluation is therefore in line with civil society and one study from the Expert Group for Development Aid Analysis (EBA) which calls for more independent and systematic follow-up of this type of assistance.

Sweden should also commit to improving the transparency of refugee costs; in particular in view of the extraordinary influx of refugees over the past year. At present, some refugee costs are part of the development assistance budget and can only be traced at a general level.

Sweden should make it possible for the public to follow refugee costs from decisions and implementation to follow-up on, which is an information service about Sweden's assistance based on open government data. According to actors in civil society, Sweden should also undertake to administer refugee costs separately from the development assistance budget. In November 2015, the government agreed to increase the part of the development assistance budget that can be used for refugee reception from 20 to 30 percent, which may mean that up to SEK 13 billion less per year goes to actual development assistance.

Alina Östling

The full evaluation report from OPG can be downloaded here: Readers are welcome to comment on the report on the same page.

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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