The road to Busan

An editor I once worked for had a golden rule for his reporters and editors: We don’t do process. By that he meant that news stories should focus on what had happened, not the tedious ins and outs of how it had happened. Not bad advice it you want to write a vivid story, and many journalists would probably subscribe to it. Indeed, it may help to explain why there’s such a gap in public awareness regarding two of the landmark development declarations of the 2000s.

The first, the Millennium Development Goals, is known worldwide. Under eight main headings, it sets down a series of anti-poverty goals to be attained by the year 2015, including a memorable pledge to cut by half the number of people living on less than a dollar a day.

The second declaration is less well known, in part, perhaps, because it’s all process. While the Millennium Development Goals are about what development should seek to achieve, the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness is about the processes developing and developed countries should follow to achieve those goals. The language of the declaration and its five core principles can be a little obscure, but the message basically boils down to this: Development won’t happen sustainably unless developing countries themselves – and not donors – take the lead in setting priorities and coordinating activities.

Since it was adopted in 2005, the Paris Declaration has been widely credited with helping to reshape relations between donor and developing countries – development expert Homi Kharas describes the process that created the declaration as a “watershed”. But whether enough has really changed is a matter for debate: It’s probably fair to say that developing countries still feel their donor partners could do more.

How much more? That question, and many others, will be keenly debated at a major conference on development and aid effectiveness in November in the Korean city of Busan. The issues on the table are previewed in an article by OECD colleague Stephen Groff in the latest issue of Global Asia.

As Steve points out, this forum – the latest in a series over the past decade – “will be the first international meeting of its kind to focus on aid in the new development landscape”. That landscape is, indeed, new: Traditional donors in North America and Europe are facing squeezed budgets and rising pressure to get value for money for their aid budgets. Newer donors, like China, India and Brazil, are becoming ever more important players in development. And there’s the evolving political and social situation, in which, as the Arab Spring has shown, things can change in a heartbeat.

Busan will look back at what the Paris Declaration, and other agreements, have and have not achieved. But, as Steve points out, it will also look forward. “In Busan, there is the opportunity to build a fresh — and flexible — global development partnership that will include today’s diversity of actors and approaches,” he writes. “In these times of economic uncertainty, the world simply cannot afford anything less than effective aid and Busan is a critical milestone on the path to more effective development.”

Useful links

OECD work on aid effectiveness

Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action

Development co-operation at the OECD

Helping Haiti: Colombia says ownership is the origin of aid effectiveness

 
 

Click on the image to go to the Acción Social site (in Spanish)

This contribution to the debate on aid ownership comes from Sandra Alzate, Director of International Cooperation, Presidential Agency for Social Action and International Cooperation – Acción Social, Colombia. You can see French and Spanish translations by clicking on the “more” tag.

I would like to express our rejection of the conclusion of Joel Brinkley in his article: “Don’t let Haitians help themselves“, according to which “if the World wants to help Haiti, aid officials should put aside the Paris Agreement on Aid Effectiveness. The donors should decide what to do with their money. The Haitian “government” can have no more than an advisory role, or nothing will ever change”.

There are several points to mention.

As expressed in the article, there have indeed been decades of unproductive work; unproductive work that gave rise to the reflections and actions for more effective aid strategies, both in countries dependent and not dependent on aid.

The Paris Declaration (PD) and the Accra Agenda for Action (AAA) have become a commitment of the international community with the most vulnerable populations of the world. Colombia shares the principles of the PD because it locates the responsibility for development with the so-called partner countries, and because it understands international cooperation as complementary to national efforts.

In particular, the principle of “ownership” is seen by Colombia as the origin of the aid effectiveness chain, and necessary in order to strengthen leadership, coordination, dialogue and interaction between all the development actors, thus enriching their cooperation policies and practices.

It is in this scenario that Colombia has played an active role in the international debate. This has generated new spaces of dialogue and has promoted the incorporation of the effectiveness agenda, and of subjects like broadening and the  democratization of the term ownership, the promotion of using national systems and mutual evaluation mechanisms, the recognition of the role of NGOs, the reference to south-south and triangular cooperation policies, and aid information transparency.

As anticipated in the PD and AAA, donors have the responsibility to develop capacities and leadership in Southern countries so as to support the sustainable construction of their own development. Nevertheless, traditional cooperation models in Haiti have reflected a lack of work from donors related to this responsibility (lack of capacity-building, creation of dependence, fragmentation of initiatives, high transaction costs, weakness of accountability, and lack of transparency).

Considering these factors, ownership becomes the common denominator that must govern in a vulnerable and, for decades, criticized context like the one in which Haiti has been living. This principle allows the exercise of an effective authority of development policies and strategies where donors respect the leadership and they contribute to local capacities development and strength.

To imagine a scenario like the one raised in the conclusion by Brinkley, where the Haitian reality reflects the presence of multiple international actors working to develop the country, without guaranteeing a firm leadership and an active participation of the Haitian government, only generates a lack of organization of the numerous cooperation actions, and a negative impact for the future generations of Haitian society.

Colombia, as a Middle Income Country, positioned as a donor of financial and technical cooperation in Haiti, has felt deep solidarity with the Haitian Government since the earthquake of January 12, 2010. As a result, Colombia participates as an observer in the Interim Recovery Haiti Commission (IHRC) and is using the Haiti Reconstruction Fund – created by the Government of Haiti and managed by the World Bank – to realize, as a request of the Government, a donation of $4 million for budget support to the agricultural and land reconstruction sectors.

Colombia has also seen in South-South Cooperation an opportunity to promote in Haiti a new philosophy that encourages an integrated and new approach to development, based on a coordination scheme between all the actors involved, connecting the emergency and recovery stage, and guaranteeing the active participation of local communities in decision-making.

What the author proposes in his article is not new, but is a scenario that has caused a continued chaotic situation in Haiti. It is for that reason that we would like to invite the author to reframe his ideas and to better ask donors what they have done, or what they are doing, to develop Haiti’s capacity for leadership. (more…)

Helping Haiti: Should donors make the decisions?

A US Marine shows a Haitian woman how to use a radio

In a widely-circulated editorial opinion piece that the International Herald Tribune printed under the headline “Don’t let Haitians help themselves“, Pulitzer prize winning journalist Joel Brinkley argues that the Haitian government is so corrupt and ineffective that “If the world wants to help Haiti, aid officials should put aside that Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. The donors should decide what to do with their money”.

In criticizing the OECD-backed Declaration that over 100 ministers, heads of agencies and other senior officials have now adhered to, Brinkley focuses on the principle of “ownership”: “Developing countries set their own strategies for poverty reduction, improve their institutions and tackle corruption.”

Brenda Killen, head of the OECD division working on aid effectiveness, replies to Brinkley.

We agree with Joel Brinkley that corruption can undo the best of efforts and intentions, and it has a strong hold in many of the neediest countries. But we strongly reject his conclusions that Haitians should not be trusted with their own rebuilding and that donors should abandon the principles of the Paris Declaration.

The Paris Declaration sets out five strong principles to make aid work for development. Brinkley zeroes in on one of them: countries must take the reins of their own development. The reasons for this seem obvious to those of us who have had the privilege of growing up and living in countries that do so – at least when we are talking about our own countries and futures.

But the principle of ownership, like the other principles that underpin the Paris Declaration, is not an expression of political correctness. It is based on objective assessments of what works – and what doesn’t – and drawn from experience in the field.

Countries like Vietnam (which has adapted the Paris Declaration to its own priorities and needs) and Ghana (which has set its own programme to achieve middle income country status by 2015) illustrate why local ownership is essential if aid is to be a catalyst for effective development.  And even where systems are weak and there is corruption and inefficiency, ownership is key to uncovering and reversing this. Post-conflict Uganda in the 1990s provides a well-known example in the form of the Public Expenditure Tracking Surveys of education grants that showed a reduction in the diversion of funds from 80 percent to 20 percent over a decade – reflecting strong ownership by the public (through broad public debate and citizen engagement) and government (through reform and strengthening of public financial management systems) of the country’s post-conflict process.

Referring to the origins of the Paris Declaration, Mr Brinkley states that it came out of “decades of unproductive work”. Certainly, if the donors and developing countries that adhered to this Declaration found it worthwhile to work on making aid more effective, it was not because aid had achieved nothing. It was, rather, that the experience gathered over time provided evidence of what could be done to make it work better. The Paris Declaration made harmonisation of donor efforts imperative long before the media reported stories of duplicated and wasted efforts due to turf battles among donors.

One of the major obstacles to aid effectiveness during the decades referred to by Brinkley as “unproductive”, was that a substantial part of aid was tied to conditions and services set by the donors. In other words, donors – not recipients – controlled it and how it was used. The Paris Declaration has helped to reverse this situation, and today almost 90%of aid is untied.

But above and beyond the specifics of aid effectiveness – which are often very complex and process- oriented – there is another, overarching lesson that today seems obvious: aid is not an end – or a solution – in itself. Nor can it take the blame, or the credit for that matter, for what has or has not worked. The problem in Haiti is about much more than aid, and here – as in so many other places – the Paris principles must be applied not in isolation, but rather in the context of much larger, more complex development issues.

Brinkley states that “Haitians were as poor and uneducated as ever” before the earthquake. It could be argued that this is simply not true. The 2009 Human Development Index report states that “Between 1980 and 2007 Haiti’s HDI rose by 0.77% annually from 0.433 to 0.532.” Not great, but still an improvement.

Yet this still leaves the fundamental question raised by Brinkley: earthquake or not, is Haiti in a position to be able to direct all international aid resources through its own government systems? Absolutely not. On this we agree. But does this mean we should not be working with the Haitians? Or does it mean we should be working to help them get to a point where aid can eventually go through Haiti’s national systems? We believe the answer is the latter. Absolutely, we should and we must.  

At the heart of the issue is the question of how to combat corruption. Punishing a crime requires legal institutions. Should foreign charities or donor governments run these too? Rather than standing on the high moral ground and telling Haitians what they must do, shouldn’t we be helping Haiti to build those institutions?

The Principles for Good International Engagement in Fragile States are about just this – how do we move from the chaos of disaster and conflict to a stable development path?  The ultimate aim is to support Haitians in building the ownership (in the form of democratically elected government, strong institutions and a voice for the poor) that will enable them to achieve – and sustain – their own development.  Fragile states realise this and the g7+ group of fragile states is calling on donors to recognise it as well. 

Just as South Korea was able to use aid as a catalyst to move from poverty and conflict to leadership of the G20 in less than two generations – building on strong national ownership and committed international support – other countries can do the same.  Liberia, Timor Leste – and Haiti.

The Paris principles are highly relevant to Haiti’s current situation.  In particular, they highlight the need to coordinate the many aid efforts more effectively so aid gets quickly to those who need it. But they can’t stand alone. Without action on many fronts – and action that takes into account the location-specific realities of each country – neither aid nor development will be effective.

Useful links

The Partnership for Democratic Governance  (PDG) is proposing Service Delivery Guidance in English, French and Creole to assist Haitian authorities and the donor community

Watch the trailer of an OECD-PDG documentary about Haiti made to accompany the forthcoming OECD-PDG Handbook on Contracting Out Government Functions and Services in Post-Conflict and Fragile Situations.

Catalyzing development: A new vision for aid,  a workshop organised by Brookings in July 2010, concluded that: “Donors remain far too eager to lead, despite empirical evidence that aid programs that are truly owned by recipients have the biggest impact.”

The DAC Network on Development Evaluation  works to increase the effectiveness of programmes through evaluation. In Haiti, the Network is supporting a collaborative approach to assessing the international aid response.

The Development Co-operation Report is the key annual reference document for statistics and analysis on trends in international aid.

The Dili International Dialogue sets out a new vision for peacebuilding and statebuilding