Building on Busan
With traditional donors locked in economic stagnation, scant progress being recorded on the targets set for donors in the Paris Declaration, and the main providers of South-South co-operation set on maintaining freedom of action, one could be forgiven for having low expectations of the latest in the series of High Level Forums on Aid Effectiveness. These meetings – Rome 2003, Paris 2005, Accra 2008 and now Busan 2011 – have taken place in an ad hoc but expanding configuration. In Rome, less than 100 delegates, mostly donor officials, met in a room at the Italian Foreign Ministry; in Paris over 500, with civil society present and a stronger Southern participation, filled a much larger space in the French Finance Ministry; in Accra, over 1000 met in a gigantic tent; and in Busan, some 3,000 met in the super-modernist environment of the BEXCO, with attendance from among others the UN Secretary-General and Secretary Clinton for the United States. Did the Busan outcome justify the profile? Two key questions are whether the Outcome Document represents a qualitative shift in understanding between ‘traditional’ donors and the emerging economies and whether it will have any impact on real development at country level. The answer to the first question must be a qualified ‘yes’.
The traditional donors, skilfully led by Development Assistance Committee (DAC) Chair Brian Atwood, had signalled a strong wish for a new relationship with emerging economies. The main South-South providers had been understandably cautious, arguing that South-South co-operation was radically different in character from North-South aid. Busan has brought the two positions closer together, not least thanks to patient and determined efforts of South Korea. The outcome document highlights four principles –ownership, focus on results, inclusive partnership, and transparency and accountability - that are agreed to apply to all forms of co-operation. And there is agreement that a new Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation will be established in which the emerging economies will be full participants. The existing OECD-hosted Working Party on Aid Effectiveness will be wound up, and new working arrangements are to be agreed by June 2012, with secretariat support from not just OECD but also the UNDP. None of this removes national interest, but it should help to cement the common interest in sustainable progress by poor and aid-dependent countries. The answer to the second question is less clear. The monitoring of the targets set for 2010 in the Paris Declaration shows that while recipient countries have made modest progress, donors have changed little. True, the independent evaluation of the Paris Declaration argues that the quality of the relationship between recipients and aid providers has changed for the better, and has begun to deliver results. Nevertheless sceptics could well argue that the whole process has proved toothless when donors’ day-to-day incentives do not adequately encourage aid that is more strongly aligned to locally-owned priorities, more supportive of (improved) local systems, more predictable, transparent and results-oriented, and better harmonised among donors. If the Busan outcome means that global commitments, despite references to Paris/Accra, will be adjusted to what (much poorer) emerging economies are willing to accept, pressures on donors for more effective delivery at country level may be even lower in future. The indicators which the participants have pledged to agree on by June 2012 will be significant in judging this. The Busan outcome correctly places more responsibility on individual recipient countries or regional groups to push for more effective aid delivery.
Here the signs are quite positive. For example, the African Union mobilised not just governments but African civil society, business and academia to produce a powerful statement of Africa’s wish both to press ahead with the unfinished agenda of aid effectiveness and increasingly to look beyond aid to all the channels that can lead to effective development. This is a sign of a shift towards a more mature relationship between countries that will still need to depend significantly on aid for many years and those who will be providing it. And Busan also recorded some practical progress, notably on aid transparency. Providers – emerging economies as well as traditional donors – have agreed to make ‘the full range’ of information on publicly-funded development activities publicly available and to implement a common electronic standard for doing this. Meanwhile a key existing standard, the International Aid Transparency Initiative, gained the support of important additional donors, notably the United States, meaning that 80% of all traditional aid will now be reported to the IATI standard. Aid transparency on its own is no panacea, but Busan underscored the need for engagement by Parliaments, civil society, and the private sector, and for addressing corruption – all important if executives are to be held to account. Transparency, recipient country (not just government) leadership, and a better dialogue among all providers of assistance: even in very tough times for aid, these moves may prove strategically important for more sustainable results.
Richard Manning is a member of the German Marshall Fund Transatlantic Taskforce on Development.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.