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Progress at risk: government spending on the MDGs

Progress at risk: government spending on the MDGs

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 - 14:45 to 16:00

Key points

  • A new database shows how much developing countries are spending on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
  • The aim is to promote transparency and accountability and give local civil society the tools to challenge government assertions and plans for spending on sustainable development.
  • Data differs widely among countries both in terms of quantity and quality.
  • While developing countries overall have increased spending on MDG issues, this is not the case in Africa, where the trend is downwards.



Some 13 years after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were set, and two years before they are due to be met, campaigners finally have a means of measuring how much money developing countries are putting into achieving the goals. ‘It really is astonishing that nobody had been tracking this before,’ said Matthew Martin, Director, Development Finance Institute.

The ‘Progress at Risk: Government Spending on the MDGs’ report was drawn up by Government Spending Watch (GSW), a joint venture of Oxfam and the Development Finance Institute. It is at the heart of a new online database that currently covers the MDG-related government spending of 63 countries, with the number of countries to rise shortly to 82. The report, which will be issued annually, aims to promote transparency and accountability. The website provides local civil society activists and other interested parties with the data, analyses and campaign tools needed to hold governments to account over MDG spending.

‘We want civil society to be able to work more effectively,’ said Natalia Alonso, Head of EU Advocacy Office, Oxfam International.

The report reveals significant differences in the quality and quantity of data among countries. Only some 10 % of countries provided all the data sought and many provided less than 25 %. But donors are also at fault when it comes to providing accurate and up-to-date information on MDG assistance. The problem is that a lot of their spending does not go through the budget of the recipient country, Martin said.

Overall the report shows that developing countries have increased budget spending on MDG issues, despite the global financial crisis. But in Africa the results are less positive. Very few African states are spending enough to meet the MDGs, with the prospects for making continued progress post-2015 even dimmer, Martin told participants.

‘This tool is very important and we hope to do a lot with it,’ said Patrice Sanon,
Founder and Executive Director, ODSAD FASO, Burkina Faso. The Burkina Faso government is one of Africa’s most open when it comes to giving NGOs access to information, but even there it is difficult to find out what is really going on. Sanon cited the example of budget spending on health, which the GSW says is much lower than the government states.

Too often civil society organisations – in Burkina Faso and elsewhere – are only consulted on budgetary issues once decisions have been taken, and that is too late, he said. The new analytical tool will allow civil society to play a more proactive role on budget issues and produce alternative financial analyses to counter those offered by the government.

Future tasks include drawing a closer correlation between spending in areas such as health or agriculture and progress on achieving the MDGs. Governments also need to measure the performance of social spending. ‘It is all very well having nice data, but what counts in the end is whether it changes lives,’ said Martin.


The international community must begin to think about how to promote sustainable development post-2015. But pressure must be maintained to achieve the current MDGs and the effective monitoring of spending is one way of assuring attention does not waiver.