5. Japan’s delivery modalities and partnerships

Japan rarely partners with non-government actors in delivering its development co-operation (Table B.2). In 2017-18, 84.7% of bilateral projects (78.7% of bilateral gross disbursements) were funded with developing country governments, 6.9% with non-government organisations (NGO) and CSOs (1.7% of bilateral gross disbursements), and 2.96% with multilateral organisations (10.2% of bilateral gross disbursements). The great majority of projects to and through civil society partners were project-type interventions (77.7%), with core support making up just 19.4%.

Japan’s focus on individual projects rather than overall multi-year country portfolios reduces predictability. Japan primarily invites proposals for project-type interventions (78.2% of bilateral activities in 2017-18), making limited use of core support mechanisms and flexible funding instruments (3.7%). Its preference for working with partner governments, together with a lack of clarity regarding country allocations, constrains Japan’s ability to provide multi-year predictability to its partners, including multilateral, regional and civil society organisations, and private sector entities.

The process of seeking funding from Japan’s supplementary budget is administratively burdensome for all parties. In the middle of the calendar year, embassies invite multilateral partners based in-country to submit proposals for emergency responses. Embassies review them and send their recommendations to Tokyo. Decisions are usually communicated at the end of the year, and funds, which must be disbursed within the current Japanese fiscal year and executed as soon as possible, are transferred early in the following year. This approach is not strategic, does not facilitate timely response to emergencies, and imposes administrative burdens on all parties – for one United Nations organisation a dedicated unit of three people in New York together with staff from its six-person liaison office in Tokyo manage the administrative and reporting requirements (Chapters 2 and 7).

Japan requires regular reporting and strict financial accountability. Recipients of Japanese loans and large grants are required to report on a quarterly basis, and particular attention is paid to financial accountability. Each grant-funded institution identifies the results it expects to achieve and reports against these using progress and completion reports (Chapter 6).

Grants available to CSOs are relatively small. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) offer funding windows for CSOs but funds are not large. JICA’s Partnership Program provides a maximum of JPY 100 million (approximately USD 900 000) to projects proposed by Japanese organisations with extensive experience in international co-operation; these are to be completed within five years. Less experienced Japanese organisations and Japanese local government bodies can apply for a maximum of JPY 10 million (approximately USD 90 000) and JPY 60 million (around USD 540 000) respectively for projects to be completed within three years (JICA, 2015[1]). MOFA’s grant assistance for projects run by Japanese NGOs is also small. In the 2019 financial year, MOFA reports supporting 219 projects totalling JPY 11.14 billion (around USD 100 million) at an average of USD 457 500 each. This amounts to double its grant assistance in 2017 – 113 projects totalling JPY 5.07 billion (around USD 46 million), averaging some USD 407 000 each (MFA, 2019[2]). Japan could draw on good practices of other DAC members to support NGOs to respond more flexibly to the changing contexts within which they operate.1

Japan participates actively in government-development partner co-ordination mechanisms but rarely funds projects jointly with other donors. Contributions to pooled programmes and funds comprised just 6% of country programmable aid in 2018. In addition, Japan makes very limited use of budget support – just 3% in 2018 – or programme-based approaches (Table B.2). It is rare for Japan to co-finance with other development partners, partly because of differences in project management procedures between donors, which often create difficulties with co-ordinating co-financing. Multilateral funding is almost always clearly earmarked, or provided through bridge or parallel financing (Chapter 3). As seen in the water sector in Cambodia, and the transport sector in Ghana, Japan prefers to directly manage its own contributions in full, leaving others to contribute theirs, with a view to a co-ordinated whole (Annex C).

Japan has a proud record of support for south-south and triangular co-operation. Japan’s development co-operation began by joining the Colombo Plan in 1954. At the time, Japan was still undergoing post-war reconstruction using external aid.2 Drawing on its own experience of receiving technical and financial co-operation during the post-war reconstruction period, while at the same time providing development co-operation, Japan subsequently commenced work with developing and emerging countries in triangular co-operation arrangements, commencing with Thailand in 1975. Today, Japan is one of the largest partners in triangular co-operation globally. It uses this long-standing experience to promote triangular co-operation within the United Nations system, the DAC, the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC), the G20 and other global fora (Box 5.1).

Japan uses a range of mechanisms to share data and information about its development co-operation. MOFA publishes an annual White Paper on Development Cooperation (MFA, 2019[2]) and JICA publishes an annual report and data book (JICA, 2019[6]). The ODA Mieru-ka site provides information in Japanese language on projects by country, thematic issue and type of co-operation.3 In addition, MOFA and JICA report in English to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), although given the high number of projects involved it is proving difficult to meet IATI’s requirements (Table 5.1). Japan tracks results at project level but, as noted in the 2014 Peer Review, has limited ability to capture its overall development results (Chapter 6).

Japan is committed to country ownership, seeking to achieve mutually beneficial partnerships and taking a recipient-driven approach. Based on its own experience, Japan values self-reliant development and the mutual benefit gained from development co-operation. Like many DAC members, Japan is clear that both parties will gain by co-operating. It sees its partners’ willingness to borrow as evidence of ownership (Chapters 2 and 3).

Country development cooperation policies outline Japan’s priorities but could better describe Japan’s overall contribution to sustainable development. These concise documents identify how Japan’s priorities are in line with those of the partner country, but they do not describe the results Japan expects to achieve (MFA, 2020[7]). In addition, as found in the 2018 GPEDC monitoring survey (OECD/UNDP, 2019[8]) Japan is encouraged to enhance the inclusive manner in which it consults partner country governments and other stakeholders as it elaborates country development cooperation policies. While better than the DAC average, alignment with country priorities and use of country-owned results have decreased significantly since 2016 (Table 5.1). A more strategic approach that links Japan’s co-operation to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and includes the overall picture of its investments at the country level would give Japan visibility, allow it to be more effective in establishing priorities aligned with the partner government, and show how it is responding to country needs.

JICA’s country analysis papers could draw on a broader range of data. JICA uses country analysis papers to guide its programming, presenting and testing these with partner governments. Recognising the challenges of accessing reliable, up-to-date official statistics, JICA could consider making greater use of a range of analyses – e.g. by going beyond headline poverty data to use poverty mapping instruments, such as IDPoor in Cambodia (Annex C). Drawing on its extensive alumni network and other stakeholders (academics, think tanks, local CSOs, innovators and other private sector actors) could also add value to Japan’s context analysis.

Japan responds to requests from partner governments. Government partners complete and submit annual needs surveys by funding instrument – technical co-operation, grants and loans. The ODA Task Force considers these and forwards its recommendations to Tokyo for approval (Chapter 4). The overall resource envelope for each country and region is determined by adding the budget lines allocated for each instrument which – except for humanitarian and emergency relief funding – typically follow past trends. A detailed, public, rolling three-year country plan includes all ODA investments and provides an overview of Japan’s interventions.

Japan’s use of partner country financial management systems is significantly higher than the DAC average. Japan makes good use of public financial management systems for budget execution, financial reporting, auditing and procurement (74% in 2018 compared with the DAC average of 55%). However, when this is broken down by modality, use is seen to be high for loans (96%) but very low for grants (8%). In Cambodia, where there is a higher risk of corruption, JICA supports all public finance for grants and technical co-operation, disbursing funds directly to the recipient’s account dedicated solely to the project in a bank in Japan. ODA loans can be on- or off-budget, and there are five possible disbursement procedures. In Cambodia, JICA uses the transfer procedure for ODA project loans, making payments directly to contractors upon the request of the government. At 64%, Japan’s use of partner countries’ results frameworks, results indicators, data and statistics, while better than the DAC average (56%), has reduced since 2016 (Table 5.1) (OECD/UNDP, 2019[8]).

Japan applies the "Build Back Better" principle in responding to disasters by accompanying a country from the emergency phase to its reconstruction. In order to realise this principle, Japan often assists the partner government in designing a reconstruction master plan that enhance the country's resilience. In doing so, Japan shares a wide array of technical expertise and their past experiences and offer financial assistance (both grant and loan) for resilient infrastructures. Predictable and transparent partnerships are common.

Japan’s annually scheduled payments are made on time, but its medium-term predictions could be improved. Almost all scheduled payments (98%) are disbursed during the fiscal year, less so those in the medium-term (Table 5.1). Sharing rolling plans with partner governments, as seen in Cambodia and Ghana (Annex C), has enabled Japan to improve its medium-term predictability (increasing from 63% to 83%). Nevertheless, publishing these more regularly on MOFA’s website would also increase transparency and accountability to the public.

Japan is a responsive development partner, regularly updating aid management databases. It responds to requests from partner governments to provide or input details of its projects into partner government aid management databases, thus ensuring information can be accessed by partner governments and other actors, including civil society and parliaments. Japan is also an active participant in mutual accountability assessment processes (OECD/UNDP, 2019[8]).

Japan plays a positive role as lead donor, encouraging co-ordination and mapping of donor support. Where it leads government-development partner technical working groups, Japan has played an important role in mapping donor support in sectors, as seen in Cambodia and Ghana (Annex C).

Japan’s development co-operation spans a range of instruments which are all appreciated in their own right (Chapter 2). Japan strives to achieve synergies among its development co-operation instruments, for example as seen in Cambodia, Japan is complementing investments in water infrastructure with technical co-operation supporting government capacity to manage water supply. Nevertheless, a more co-ordinated and strategic approach could be taken to country portfolios, creating greater synergies across Japan’s loans, grants, technical co-operation, volunteers and support provided to other development actors. The potential for more synergies was observed in Cambodia and Ghana (Annex C). This could help Japan to achieve development co-operation outcomes which are greater than the sum of its individual project parts.

Japan’s terms and conditions of aid are clear and transparent. It does not place policy conditions on development co-operation.


[4] JICA (ed.) (2020), Africa. Asia-Africa Knowledge Co-creation Program (AAKCP), https://www.jica.go.jp/english/our_work/thematic_issues/south/project06.html (accessed on 6 February 2020).

[6] JICA (2019), JICA 2019 Japan International Cooperation Agency Annual Report, Japan International Cooperation Agency, Tokyo, https://www.jica.go.jp/english/publications/reports/annual/2019/c8h0vm0000f7nzvn-att/2019_all.pdf (accessed on 22 February 2020).

[3] JICA (2018), JICA’s Support for South-South and Triangular Cooperation, Japan International Cooperation Agency, https://www.jica.go.jp/activities/issues/ssc/ku57pq00001wlrnp-att/pamphlet_en_01.pdf (accessed on 24 February 2020).

[1] JICA (2015), JICA Partnership Program. Toward active citizen participation in international cooperation, Japan International Cooperation Agency, https://www.jica.go.jp/english/our_work/types_of_assistance/citizen/c8h0vm0000anzm5q-att/partner_01.pdf (accessed on 24 February 2020).

[5] JICA (2015), News. KIZUNA Project Launched - Impressive Results From Early Evacuations, Improved Seismic Resistance in Buildings, https://www.jica.go.jp/english/news/field/2015/151102_01.html (accessed on 6 February 2020).

[7] MFA (2020), Country Assistance Policy for Respective Countries, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, https://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/oda/assistance/country2.html (accessed on 6 February 2020).

[2] MFA (2019), White Paper on Japan’s Development Cooperation 2018, Ministry of Foreign Affais, https://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000554934.pdf.

[8] OECD/UNDP (2019), Making development co-operation more effective: How development partners are promoting effective, country-led partnerships, OECD, http://www.oecd.org/dac/effectiveness/Part-II-of-the-Global-Partnership-Progress-Report.pdf (accessed on 5 August 2019).


← 1. As part of its work stream on civil society engagement in development co-operation, the OECD’s Development Co-operation Directorate recently prepared a report on how DAC members work with civil society. See www.oecd.org/dac/civil-society-engagement-in-development-co-operation.htm.

← 2. The Colombo Plan was established in 1950 as a regional inter-governmental organisation to improve the economic and social development of the Asia-Pacific region. Its focus is on human resource development and south-south co-operation. See www.colombo-plan.org/overview.

← 3. See www.jica.go.jp/oda (in Japanese).

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