“A rather solid foundation”
© Shahidul Alam/Majority World/Lineair
“We want things to get better for the poor”: Participants in a non-governmental adult literacy programme in Bangladesh
In the past, it often seemed that Managing for Development Results was a politically correct slogan with rather little substance. Would you agree?
Yes, up to a point. It is true that, from the High Level Forum in Paris on, quite a bit has happened to change aid modalities, but that was not enough to ensure that the lives of poor people really improved large scale.
What went wrong?
For several reasons, governments were actually in a double bind about what Managing for Results was supposed to mean.
– One reason was that the statistical capacities of many developing countries are weak, so they struggled to present lots of data.
– Another was that the understanding of the term was initially quite cursory, and governments later found some of the output indicators quite burdensome.
On the other hand, communities of practice were established to address technical barriers and build capacities. There has been quite a bit of activity.
Did it make a difference?
I think it hardly made a difference in actual practice of managing policy implementation and achieving results. There were too many serious challenges.
– The first issue was: whose results are we talking about? The donors were interested in their own sets of indicators concerning what results they wanted to see. The donors’ priorities were not necessarily those of the governments of the developing countries, and those countries’ people were likely to have still other priorities.
– The second issue was: what kind of results are we looking for? There were a lot of examples where the focus was on output results, for instance the number of classrooms or hospital beds. That sort of output matters, of course, but it isn’t enough to tell whether the lives of the poor are improving or not. So civil society organisations and members of parliaments were not satisfied with that kind of output figures.
– The third issue was that, in many countries, different government agencies do not agree on their own sets of indicators. And when different agencies use different statistics, it becomes very hard to get a clear picture of what is going on and how to improve matters.
The Busan Partnership for Development Cooperation is the final document that was agreed in Busan. It speaks of Focus on Results. In what sense is that different from the former principle of Managing for Development Results?
Well, the old concept, for all its good intentions, became very bureaucratic. Discussions kept revolving around what government agencies are supposed to do at what time. Most attention was paid to technical aspects of administration. So in the end, the government agencies lost focus. They were not checking what services they had delivered and what impact their services had. So the new wording is about an emphasis on considering the impacts, and that is something civil society organisations are in favour of. And so are several donors. We don’t really want a technocracy; we are interested in understanding how impacts can be improved.
Before Busan, you wrote in D+C/E+Z (2011/9), that the crucial issue was to re-define ownership as democratic ownership. Who can insure that the focus of government action is really on what matters to the people?
I’m quite happy with the Busan Partnership’s emphasis on inclusive development. This term means that there should always be an inclusive framework of all relevant actors – at the project level, the programme level and the country level. If you actually involve all relevant actors, you’ll find that non-state actors and parliaments will be important for ensuring results. Legislators are in touch with the people, and so are community based organisations. So their involvement is likely to help government agencies focus on the crucial issues. By the way, you hear the same arguments in the private sector. Private sector companies are also interested in what impact government action has.
Do the demands of civil society organisations and private sector companies converge on the role of developing countries’ governments?
Yes and no. They converge in the sense of both sides wanting state agencies to do their job. Of course, governance institutions have to deliver the services they are supposed to. But civil society and the private sector diverge on goals. Civil society organisations want things to get better for the poor, whereas private sector companies are interested in business opportunities and a better investment climate.
Do you expect the Busan Partnership to make a difference in terms of achieving results for the poor?
Well, I think it is quite promising. The guiding idea is that developing countries should define their own results frameworks in cooperation with various development partners, including the donors, of course. This approach makes sense, provided that the developing countries really own the process and civil society views are taken into account. Development results, moreover, should be considered peoples’ rights. The poor must be entitled to services and empowered to make sure they get those services.
Any rights-based development agenda will depend on improving governance – the poor will need access to the courts, for instance, which is something that cannot be taken for granted.
Yes, I agree, though local governments are probably even more important. Municipal authorities are close to the grass roots. They know what the situation is like, and community based organisations can interact with them in meaningful ways. National non-governmental organisations cannot tackle all issues, so the local level is very important.
What is your take on aid on delivery, with donors paying recipient governments some money for every vaccinated child or every birth that is professionally attended?
I have mixed feelings. This approach does not pay attention to processes and capacity development. It looks like conditional cash transfers, but it is shortsighted. I’m afraid it may do more harm than good.
Does it matter that the title of the Busan Partnership points to effective development cooperation rather than aid effectiveness? The term development cooperation is rather fuzzy, so it might mean that donors are off the hook regarding their earlier aid commitments.
No, the Busan Partnership certainly does not let donors off the hook. It clearly re-iterates the commitments made earlier. Moreover, the UN Millennium Development Goals of 2000 and the Monterrey Summit on Financing for Development in 2002 laid the foundation for the aid effectiveness debate, and that is a rather solid foundation.
So there will be more High Level Forums in the future even though there is something of a summit fatigue among donors?
I’m sure there will be another High Level Forum before 2015, before the deadline of the Millennium Development Goals. What donors are tired of – and so is civil society, by the way – is running a large international machinery with a lot of debate. There certainly has to be a stronger focus on the experience of developing countries.