Simon Maxwell

weebitePutting some bite into Busan

The High-Level Forum on aid effectiveness looks like producing a bark but no bite. Is it too late to strengthen the outcome document?

Officials have been toiling for months to prepare an outcome document for the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, to be held in Busan, South Korea, at the end of November. Judged by their latest effort, the third draft published on 10 October, all this work has produced a resonating bark but very little bite. Ministers travelling to Busan will deserve to be embarrassed if they can't do better.

I don't blame the co-chairs, the excellent Talaat Abdel-Malek and Bert Koenders. They have had to balance the competing agendas of new donors as well as old, civil society activists as well as Governments, bilateral aid agencies as well as multilateral, official aid agencies as well as private foundations, middle income developing countries as well as low income, fragile states as well as normal states. Looked at in this light, it is admirable that there is a document at all. There are resounding principles in the document, and some new ideas - like the emphasis on risk management and resilience. Deal constructively with the remaining square brackets, you might think, tighten the language a little, and the job is done.

Not so. The draft outcome document is so guarded in its language, so lacking in specifics, that it does no more than create a fantasma, a will o' the wisp of good intentions, that constantly shimmers in the distance and can never be pinned down. Have too many compromises been made to keep everyone happy?

It is not too late to do better. There may be a fourth, fifth and even sixth draft before Busan. Officials have been charged to work further on the document and there is apparently a fourth draft now circulating.

Alternatively, ministers may arrive in Busan and simply take charge. That is more or less what happened at the last such meeting in Accra, in 2008. Bert Koenders himself had a hand in that, I remember, as the then Dutch minister. Douglas Alexander, the UK minister, was another activist. I don't think anyone has published an account of the negotiation, but I gather that there was some serious arm-twisting of recalcitrant countries, two of whose names begin with 'U' and 'J'. For the record, I’m pasting in at the end an edited version of my notes on the event.

The question is what ministers can do in Busan to improve the outcome document. I have written previously on the key issues for Busan, and on what Busan might do about budget support. At this late stage, I have seven specific suggestions.

First, sharpen the langauge. For example (para 13), don't write about the 'challenges encountered in the implementation of our respective commitments' of the Paris agenda on aid effectiveness: be honest and write instead of the 'failure to make faster progress on the implementation of especially developed country commitments'. The evidence of poor performance is in Figure 1. Another example: don't write (para 8) that 'we reaffirm our commitments to scale up development cooperation': be honest and write instead that 'we recognise that many of us have not met our commitments to scale up aid'. The evidence for this (for the latest year that the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD has produced) is in Figure 2.

Figure 1: Progress against Paris targets


Figure 2



Second, adopt a technique used at the Copenhagen climate change talks and include an appendix in which countries can voluntarily register commitments to future aid volume. In Copenhagen, this was a device to gain some traction on commitments to cut greenhouse gases, even in the absence of a global deal. The schedule then developed momentum and provided an incentive to countries to make forward pledges. The same could work for aid, for example in terms of the commitment in para 20d to improve the medium-term predictability of aid.

Third, borrow a trick from the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, and commit to publishing, with a lag, the minutes of the main coordination meetings between the Government and its donors. This would strengthen the existing commitments to data transparency in the outcome document, but making public the pledges donors make in private, including with regard to process, as well as Government reaction to them.

Fourth, another idea borrowed from the Bank of England: require donors to write a public letter to the Government if certain thresholds are breached. In the case of the Bank of England, the Governor has to write such a letter if inflation deviates from the target by 1% in either direction. For aid, the threshold could be, for example, the share of programmable and on-budget aid to a country falling below 70%.  The same idea could be applied globally. For example, donors could be required to write an explanatory letter to the Chair of the DAC if budget support fell below a certain percentage, or the share of multilateral aid.

Fifth, incorporate into the Busan outcome document the mutual accountability procedures written into the Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the 79 countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group, the ACP. These procedures set the ‘essential and fundamental elements’ of development cooperation (Article 9 of Cotonou) and outlaw arbitrary decisions if the principles are breached - especially with regard to human rights. A period of consultation is foreseen (Article 96), backed up by arbitration (Article 98). A joint Council of Ministers and a joint Parliamentary Assembly help oversee relations. Such an arrangement would surely be better than the rather vaguely defined 'mutual accountability reviews' described in paragraph 15d of the outcome document.

Sixth, grasp the nettle on the additionality of climate finance, and don't pass the buck to the UNFCCC (para 29c). The last British Government defined a reasonable target, that not more than 10% of oda should be devoted to climate finance. The current British Government has accepted the same target. Why not adopt it as a universal rule?

Seventh, signatories to the Busan outcome document should raise their sights from country level aid programmes, to recognise that spending at global level is an essential component of aid, especially to deal with shocks. Having made resilience and risk management headline features of the new development compact, in para 23, signatories need to go one step further and insist that globally-held shock facilities be strengthened. These would fund both humanitarian programmes (interesting that the word 'humanitarian' is not used once in the document), but also macro-economic assistance. Perhaps 10% of aid should be earmarked in this way.

I don't know whether these changes are feasible. It is said that sherpas from some countries are trying to weaken the Busan outcome document rather than strengthen it. The fourth draft of the outcome document will provide evidence That really would be a pity. My proposed changes are not implausible, however, and are practical in nature.  Are the Busan participants open to new ideas at this late stage? If not, could some 'persuasion' deliver improvements, as in 2008?


Appendix: Extracts from my Accra trip report, September 2008

I was hired by Bob Zoellick’s office to attend the ministerial day of the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra, in order to moderate the two main plenary discussions. This involved over 4 hours on the platform, facing 140 ministerial delegations and up to 1000 others.

The High Level Forum generated a great deal of drama. For those who don’t live and breathe aid effectiveness, this is a triennial ministerial event of the OECD/ DAC, the last of which, in 2005, generated the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness, enshrining principles and targets for things like harmonisation, alignment and mutual accountability between donors and recipients. The process is designed to remedy all those shocking facts we cite – 700 donor missions to Vietnam last year, 25 health donors in many African countries – and is central to the work of ODI.

The drama concerned the outcome document, known as the Accra Agenda for Action. This had been carefully prepared over many months, as a consensus statement to be approved by Ministers. When I turned up for my breakfast briefing at 7 am on Thursday morning, the news was that the process had broken down over dinner the previous evening and that the whole negotiation was in jeopardy. Douglas Alexander and Bert Koenders (Netherlands) had demanded stronger wording and more concrete action programmes. X and Y had resisted. Throughout the day, while we debated general issues in the cavernous aircraft hangar of a plenary space, negotiating teams and sub-groups toiled away. Rumours about progress or the lack of it seeped out. Praise and blame was distributed. Half my panel of ministers in the afternoon session disappeared to help. I was told to keep the audience entertained because the final session would have to be postponed. Finally, the French Minister rejoined the panel. ‘There is white smoke’, he cried, ‘we have a Declaration’.  Hooray! Eventually, we convened to receive photocopied hand-outs. Jubilation all round, not least among the British delegation.

The document certainly covers the main areas identified by the original Paris Declaration: ownership, alignment, harmonisation, managing for results, and mutual accountability. I’ve compared the earlier and new drafts and there is indeed significant strengthening of the wording. Words like ‘aspire’ or ‘urge’ have been replaced by phrases like ‘starting now, we will’. There are specific targets for 2010, and strong commitments on issues like the need to avoid proliferating aid funds and programmes. All this will be underpinned by strict monitoring and peer review.

I don’t doubt that all this is essential and that the quantitative indicators make it easy to trace progress (or, actually, and mostly, lack of it). I’m sorry that it doesn’t allow much space for the question of whether we need all these funds and programmes in the first place. As my own slogan puts it, ‘don’t just harmonise, multilateralise’.

That was the kind of issue we hoped to address in the two plenaries. The first, in the morning, had a panel of Bob Zoellick ( WB), Kemal Dervis ( UNDP), Donald Kaberuka ( AfDB), Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (President of Liberia) and Emilia Pires (Minister of Finance from Timor Leste) – plus three Ministers speaking from the floor to report on round-tables, and, as noted, a thousand other people participating or observing. There were some interesting points:

  • Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf calling for a big effort to reduce the time-lag between commitment and disbursement (something the Malawian Finance Minister picked up in the afternoon, asking why it had taken four years to deliver the money promised for a teacher-training school);
  • Kemal Dervis really prioritising global economic governance and calling for a much more active ‘beyond aid agenda’ e.g. regulation of financial markets. He’s also always very good on rising global inequality.
  • Bob Zoellick again highlighting the food issue, and calling for humanitarian food supplies to WFP to be completely free of tax in both importing and exporting countries. Very strong on using country systems, pointing out that two thirds of aid to Afghanistan is off-budget. He celebrated the proposal from the EU Commission to move 1 billion euros of unspent CAP money over to help with the food crisis, and urged that it be accepted: in the afternoon, Louis Michel and the French Minister, Alain Joyandet, both said they thought it would happen.
  • Emilia Pires brought the house down with her account of being a Finance Minister and trying to deal with multiple and overlapping donors, all with different rules and procedures.
  • A strong interest across the board in doing more for fragile states.
  • Not much traction in this session on aid architecture – everyone being a bit too diplomatic.

The afternoon session was less interesting, because of the disruption caused by the negotiation crisis. Also, lots of ministers wanted to speak and work through prepared statements, which was difficult to keep control of. I stood at the podium and kept getting notes which said things like ‘my minister must speak and has to leave at 4.30’. The main panel included Louis Michel, Mr Kuroda from the Asian Development Bank, and Ministers from Egypt, France, Colombia and Malawi. Goodall Gondwe from Malawi was especially good on unpredictability and delay: as I said, you wouldn’t want his job.





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