Accountability in International Aid: The Case of Georgia

Originally published



This thesis explores accountability in international aid to the Republic of Georgia in 2008-2009. Conceptualizing accountability as the obligation to manage the expectations of multiple stakeholders with often divergent interests, it challenges the common assumption that making aid more accountable per se will automatically lead to better aid. Instead, it argues that accountability relationships reflect power relationships; power influences which stakeholders' expectations are met, to what degree they are met, and what kinds of accountability demands by which stakeholders are viewed as legitimate and therefore entail an organizational obligation to respond.

After discussing the links between power and accountability in international aid, with particular reference to donors, NGOs and the Georgian government, the thesis proceeds to explore how power and accountability relationships have influenced the allocation, management and implementation of international aid in Georgia, focusing on the aftermath of the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. Based on extensive fieldwork in Georgia during 2008-2009, the thesis examines the influence of power and accountability relationships on emergency relief operations, the composition of an international aid package worth USD 4.5 billion, donor involvement in formulating state policy on internally displaced persons and the subsequent donor-financed provision of housing to the displaced, and the provision of bulk food aid to conflict-affected Georgians.

This thesis concludes that accountability relationships in international aid reflect power relationships. As aid recipients wield little or no power over donors and NGOs, these aid providers often can (and do) ignore the expectations generated by this stakeholder group, instead giving priority to managing the competing expectations of more powerful stakeholders. Therefore, the widely observed lack of effectiveness of international aid is not due to an overall lack of accountability within international aid, as is commonly believed. Rather, aid is often ineffective at relieving human suffering and generating pro-poor development because aid providers are primarily accountable to powerful stakeholders with little interest in making aid more effective.