This is a guest post by George Gelber.
A few weeks ago, before Russian drought and fires and Pakistan floods hit the news, I attended the Development Cooperation Forum (DCF) of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN because aid transparency and aid accountability were on the agenda. The United Nations is the international institution where developing countries feel most at home because they all have a chance to say something and maybe influence the course of events. Nowhere is this more evident than the DCF, a bubbling cauldron of ideas, complaints, proposals and obsessions.
The DCF also provides a salutaryreminder that “out of sight, out of mind” applies to development and poverty as well as everything else. The Mongolia delegate said that an unusually harsh winter, with temperatures of -40° to -50° had killed large numbers of livestock and forced rural people to take refuge in the cities. The UN issued an appeal for emergency assistance in May – for USD18,000,000 but only 8 per cent had been pledged thus far. The Mongolian delegate was politely thanked for her contribution and the discussion moved on.
So what are the issues that have floated to the top of the DCF? The president’s summary was a long list of which these are just a sample of items.
• the importance of accelerating coherence between trade, development policy and technology transfer – so rich nations don’t give with one hand and take with the other.
• the primacy of national development strategies of programme (aka developing) countries – so rich nations don’t use their aid and loans to dictate policy.
• the need to generate domestic resources for development (through taxation) and to speed progress towards innovative sources of finance – the front runner being an international tax on currency transactions – so aid will continue to flow as recession-smitten rich countries cut back on their development assistance.
• that rich countries should set themselves ambitious targets for their own development assistance – well, it never does any harm to remind people of their promises.
• that there should be concrete targets for ODA with most going to countries with the greatest needs – so aid is diverted from more comfortably off donor darlings.
• financing for climate adaptation and mitigation should grow exponentially and be totally additional to existing flows of ODA – in other words, the polluter pays and they shouldn’t rebadged their development assistance as climate finance.
• work on aid effectiveness must engage programme countries and “non-executive stakeholders” – i.e. civil society – this opening towards civil society is to be encouraged; G77 governments do not always look kindly on their civil society sisters and brothers.
• assessments of aid quality must look at a wider range of indicators – don’t be so bound to logframes!
• mutual accountability mechanisms should include parliaments, civil society organisations and regional governments – civil society again, the message is getting through!
• global and regional accountability mechanisms should have more inputs from programme country governments and non-executive stakeholders – donor governments should treat recipient (programme country) governments as equals.
• information on aid and development should be more accessible to parliaments and citizens – open the books so we can see where the money is going … and if it gets there.
• south/south cooperation is in many ways better than north/south cooperation [but not so plentiful] and efforts should be made to capitalise on its advantages – rich countries are not the only ones to give aid and south/south is a more equal relationship than north/south.
• funding for triangular cooperation (where a northern donor and a southern country collaborate in providing assistance to a third country) should be increased – get the best of both worlds: the volume of northern aid combined with the savvy of south/south cooperation.
• there is a need to develop ideas for assessing and evaluating the impact of south/south cooperation – even south/south cooperation needs to be evaluated; no-one wants to waste money.
As you can see 11 of these 14 bullet points concern aid – quantity, effectiveness and accountability. Transparency – accurate, timely and easily accessible information – about aid flows is clearly fundamental to all of these aims. Michael Anderson, DFID’s Director General for Policy and Global Issues, said that future generations will look back with surprise at a time when such transparency was not regarded as the natural way of doing things.