Old Habits Die Hard: Aid and Accountability in Sierra Leone



How can aid effectiveness in Sierra Leone be improved? This European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad) report reveals piecemeal progress in improving aid effectiveness. It focuses on issues of accountability and ownership to analyse who sets the policy agenda and identify obstacles to the development of an accountable, democratic and country-driven aid system.

International aid in Sierra Leone accounts for nearly half of the government’s budget. Aid dependency and weak government structures diminish the negotiating power of the government in relation to donors. Donors in Sierra Leone struggle to honour the language of ownership underpinning the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. This includes relinquishing control over allocation of aid resources and policy. Many donor funded projects are implemented unbeknownst to the government, although some donors provide significant aid through budget support. High levels of corruption, patronage politics and weak government institutions have created donor distrust of the government.

This lack of trust drives continued donor practices of: heavily conditioning aid; setting up parallel project units to control aid; and trying to mould policy making:

  • Conditions attached to budget support are determined by donors, limiting the government’s ability to negotiate appropriate policies.
  • Poor funding predictability had serious consequences in 2007. The lack of sanctions on donors if they don’t deliver on promises undermines mutual accountability.
  • Lack of transparency regarding the government budget and aid flows is a problem for all actors.
  • Examples include donor failure to provide accessible information to the public about their activities and government failure to publish audited accounts.
  • Closed door donor-government aid negotiations are undermining democracy by excluding the legislature and citizens from the decision-making process.

Donors have significant comparative experience in improving the quality of their aid in other countries. It is necessary for them to take immediate steps in Sierra Leone to improve the areas of their interventions that they have control over. Recommendations to donors, the Government of Sierra Leone and civil society organisations (CSOs) include the following:

Donors should:

  • Reduce the number and scope of budget support conditions; improve their transparency to increase accountability; and improve the predictability of funding, including multi-annual commitments.
  • Facilitate the engagement of CSOs in public policy discussions; and audit and evaluate their technical assistance to ensure sustainability and responsiveness to need.

The Government should:

  • Make more realistic budgets based on experience of unpredictable aid; and continue to pressure donors to improve predictability, using donor commitments under the Paris Declaration to improve their negotiating strategy.
  • Take action to address endemic corruption and increase trust; and recognise the important role played by CSOs.

CSOs should:

  • Find ways to build constructive relationships with the government and donors without becoming co-opted by them; and improve their networking, organisation levels and communication channels.
  • Develop their research and communications skills to influence the policy making process whilst developing stronger links with community and membership-based organisations.


Eurodad and Campaign for Good Governance, 2008, 'Old Habits Die Hard: Aid and Accountability in Sierra Leone', European Network on Debt and Development, Brussels