Writing in The Guardian last Friday (29 April) Jonathan Glennie of the UK Overseas Development Institute argued that the OECD should give up control of the aid agenda. Brian Atwood, chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee replies. Jonathan Glennie will be continuing the debate on the Insights blog next week, but you can already see other contributions on the Guardian site, which is also publishing this article.
Jonathan Glennie’s article is timely in provoking debate around one of the biggest challenges of our decade: how to ensure that we are doing our best to meet the commitments embodied in the Millennium Development Goals, and even more important, to take development beyond them in a new framework – one that is fit for the 21st century.
Jonathan is correct: the Paris Declaration – and its follow-up Accra Agenda for Action – have proven to be of seminal importance in transforming aid relationships into true vehicles for development co-operation. The principles they embody build on 50 years of field experience and research to promote what we know works: aligning development programs around each country’s own strategies, reducing transaction costs, avoiding fragmented efforts, making all partners accountable to each other and to their constituencies and measuring success by results.
These principles have changed the reality of development co-operation, promoting the much needed transformation of aid into development co-operation – a relationship based on trust, in which all sides accept responsibility for producing results.
But as Jonathan rightly says, this progress is not sufficient to overcome the growing global challenges. In the face of the recent financial, security, food, health, climate and energy crises, I also have to conclude that the development paradigm has not shifted enough.
This is not just a matter of language, although as Jonathan notes, words are important in reflecting mindsets. But the language we use to describe development co-operation reflects not only a mindset, but also long-standing and complex ways of working that often respond to many other prompts – including public opinion – than those that strictly derive from development policy.
This brings me to where I must disagree, however, with Jonathan: the OECD DAC does not control the aid agenda, no more than it controls these ways of working. If this were the case –if there were one centralized aid mechanism – then it would be easier to change. But ODA – which accounts for the vast majority of what we refer to as ‘aid’ today – is not centrally managed. It is, rather, the sum of numerous countries’ and organizations’ total – yet individual and independent – efforts to promote the development process.
These mechanisms have not always worked to the best advantage – and this is where the OECD DAC comes in. the DAC was created to make them work better – not for the donors but for the countries trying to work their way out of poverty and all it entails. And while much has been achieved – in particular since the Paris Declaration was put in place – there is still much unfinished business.
The 91 countries Jonathan refers to are the first to testify to this and to insist – despite the fact that we are reaching the ‘due date’ for the Paris commitments – that we do not let go. Developing countries and donors alike – and yes, we still need these words – still have a job to do to reach their targets.
This is why the meeting in Busan – the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness – must be a true turning point. If Busan is successful, it will show us exactly where we need to focus to make good on those commitments. But more than that, it will signal a renewed global commitment to attack poverty as a central source of the world’s problems. More precisely, Busan can be considered successful if it achieves the following:
- A broad partnership among nations at all levels of income and development, as well as private and non-governmental organizations, based on a clear division of labor and transparent communication.
- A set of principles, founded on solid evidence, to guide the new consensus on development co-operation, together with a commitment to eliminate policies that present obstacles to achieving development results.
- A revitalized global effort to achieve the MDGs and focus on the need for global public goods.
- A recognition that the world’s poorest and most fragile states need security and capacity, and that working with them means being willing to adapt modalities and to take risks.
- An acceptance that people, no matter how impoverished, must be empowered to participate directly in the development process.
- An acceptance that all participants in development efforts must produce measurable results, and that these results must be duly reported to citizens of all nations.
Achieving these objectives will mean overcoming deep-seated prejudices and misperceptions. It will require respect for non-traditional approaches and a willingness to create a common ground among diverse partners. But it would also permit the elimination of labels such as ‘donors’ and ‘recipients’, which tend to divide the world into camps.
As my colleague Jon Lomoy, head of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate, has already noted, “The new order we foresee is not a matter of relinquishing… Why relinquish, for example, the insights that are offered by decades of experience in tracking aid, improving its quality and fostering better, more inclusive policies that Southern and Northern countries alike look to the OECD to share? Hopefully in the future, there will be no more central cogs – rather, I see the OECD as part of very efficient machinery in which each of the pieces contributes to a truly balanced, equitable and prosperous whole.”
Underdevelopment is undermining the quality of life everywhere. Busan represents an opportunity to forge the broader and deeper partnership Jonathan and many others are calling for.
OECD work on aid effectiveness including the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda
Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE conference) 30 May 1 June at the OECD