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Multilateral agreement

“Light global structure”

by Talaat Abdel-Malek


Talaat Abdel-Malek

Talaat Abdel-Malek

The era of High Level Forums on Aid Effectiveness is over. It was launched by the Development Assistance Committee of the Orga­nisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Rome in 2003 and resulted, among other things, in the Paris Declaration of 2005 and the Accra Agenda for Action of 2008. As was decided at the last High Level Forum in Busan late last year, the Global Partnership for Effective Development took over at the end of June. Its mission is to enforce aid effectiveness principles such as the policy ownership of developing countries, donor harmo­nisation and alignment to the institutions and procedures of recip­ient governments. Talaat Abdel-Malek was the outgoing chair of the OECD/DAC Working Party on Aid Effectiveness. Interview with Talaat Abdel-Malek

Monitoring has shown that donor governments haven’t performed too well in regard to the pledges they made at High Level Forums. Will the Global Partnership for Effective Development – GP for short – have the bite to stringently enforce the rules that were multilaterally agreed in Rome, Paris, Accra and Busan?
It is true that development partners – I prefer not to use the term “donors” – have yet to meet most of their commitments made in Paris and Accra, as is shown by monitoring surveys’ evidence. That they endorsed the Global Partnership for Development Cooperation Effectiveness in Busan, however, amounts to a pledge to improve matters. This document also stresses the need for a change of behaviour. We need a shift from the conventional donor-recipient mode to a development-partnership approach. It remains to be seen whether implementation will soon become a reality, but we have agreed on a follow-up mechanism, with clear indicators, to monitor progress and review results at senior political levels. Instead of High Level Forums, there will be ministerial meetings in the future, tentatively planned to start at the end of the first quarter of 2013. While the Busan agreement is voluntary in nature – and so were the Paris and Accra agreements, by the way – these meetings should have the neces­sary bite to pressure everyone to honour commitments.

Is the GP a new multi­lateral organisation?
No, it is not. There was a consensus that we should avoid creating a new institution and, instead, work with those on the ground to pool resources and achieve greater efficiency. Hence, the GP is a light global structure, replacing the OECD/DAC Working Party (WP-EFF), which had been viewed by many critics as somewhat bureaucratic. A Post Busan Interim Group was tasked to propose a specific structure, and at its final meeting at the end of June, the WP-EFF approved a three-layer structure for the GP.
– The top layer is the ministerial meeting, to be held once every 18 to 24 months following the first one next March. This is the review and decision making body.
– Second, there is a Steering Committee composed of three co-chairs and 15 members representing various constituencies. The three co-chairs represent “recipient partner countries”, “cooperation providers” and “recipient and provider countries”. The latter are emerging markets that provide as well as receive foreign assistance. The 15 other members represent different constituencies including legislators, civil society, private sector, multilateral development institutions, the UN Development Group and OECD-DAC. The Steering Committee will have to make sure ministerial meetings run smoothly and lead to meaningful results.
– Finally, a Joint Support Group was established, combining resources from the OECD and the UN. It will serve as the GP secretariat.
Much will also depend on maintaining and strengthening informal, yet effective communication networks at regional and inter-regional levels, which worked very well in facilitating consultations. In any case, the new structure is certainly the most senior level mechanism for exercising mutual accountability in the history of official development assistance.

Who is in charge, the rich-nation club OECD/DAC or the more inclusive UN Development Group?
They are equal partners in the GP, together with all other members. The new structure does not give special status to any one member, as all members will be treated equally. The UN is welcome for many reasons. It adds legitimacy, contributes its own experience and the GP will benefit from its network of country offices. The OECD-DAC, likewise, has accumulated over half a century of aid effectiveness know-how and practical experience. Both institutions complement each other. What really matters now is to produce concrete results on the ground, at the country level, and to encourage contributions from the emerging economies that have established themselves as important cooperation providers and partners in the GP. They were reluctant to make contributions in an OECD-led framework, but thanks to the fact that the UN is now an equal partner in the GP, this is expected to promote a more active role by the emerging economies.

Of the three co-chairs, only one was appointed in time. Andrew Mitchell, Britain’s secretary for interna­tional development, will represent the established donor nations. Does that not show a lack of interest among emerging markets and developing countries?
No, that would be the wrong conclusion. Nomination of the three co-chairs and the other members of the Steering Committee is an important and sensitive matter. It needs to be done diligently. It was easier for the DAC members to agree on their co-chair than for the other two groups. The DAC has been around for a long time, so the consultative process among its members was the least challenging. The other groups of countries do not have such umbrella organisations. As for the south-south cooperation providers, China, India and Brazil have stated that they would not participate as co-chairs or Steering Committee members yet. They want to stay observers before assuming a more active role at a later time. Having said this, I am happy to report that we now have three co-chairs nominated. Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Indonesia’s Planning Minister Armida Alisjahbana have agreed to fill the remaining two co-chairs’ seats. These are three capable and highly committed leaders who will drive the GP agenda forward.

What about the other Steering Committee members?
Well, two thirds of the 15 seats were filled by the end of June. In any case, delays in nominations are certainly not caused by any lack of interest. On the contrary, some delays were the consequence of many highly competent candidates’ interest in only a small number of positions. In this regard, I am pleased to inform you that all Steering Committee vacancies have been filled, and we are now ready to become fully operational.

Is there a risk of the GP becoming yet another forum for ultimately inconclusive multilateral debating?
No, I hope not. The GP is designed to become globally inclusive, with participation of government and non-government entities. I’ll happily admit that its agenda is ambitious. Some may say it is too ambitious, but the Busan agreement wisely acknow­ledges there are pressing challenges that need greater attention. I think the Steering Committee must now focus on the first and second ministerial meetings in order to promote and achieve fast progress. Scoring early success will be critical for the viability of the new GP and will provide the incentive to do more in addressing similar issues. Action to produce results on the ground should be the motto guiding the GP.

What kind of results are you thinking of?
I would assume that the first meeting, which would require much preparatory work by the Steering Committee, would tackle priorities identified by partner countries including the greater use of country systems and actions by development partners to speed up the reform of their own procedures to achieve tangible progress in this regard. In addition, the issues of harmonisation of development assistance and of aid fragmentation remain of serious concern. Meanwhile, I take this oppor­tunity to also stress the importance of partner countries to continue their reform measures and pay more attention to institutional and human resource capacities. The latter, of course, is a joint responsibility recognised in the Busan agreement, with partner countries taking the leadership role.

What was developing countries’ role in defining the GP?
Developing countries were particularly active well before the Busan High Level Forum, and they have shaped the orientation of the GP and its organisational structure. In May 2011, six months before the High Level Forum in Busan, a group of Sherpas was elected. They represented OECD member countries, developing countries, the private sector, legislators, civil society and multilateral bodies and emerging economies. Their job was to negotiate a draft Busan declaration. I have participated in negotiating sessions for many years, even before Accra, and I was impressed by the articulate inputs developing countries’ Sherpas made last year. Their priorities became very clear. Indeed, the GP acknowledges the leadership role of developing countries, and the need for assistance providers to align their efforts to these countries’ priorities. A lot remains to be done, but developing countries have already invested much. They have been putting their house in order, reforming systems, clarifying priorities, and providing a more conducive environment to achieve a sustainable-development state. Many of their representatives are disappointed that assistance providers have been lagging behind. It is, however, encour­aging that several development partners have expressed a resolve to take more actions to deal with the issues at hand than they had done so far.

Was climate finance an issue in your negotiations at all? Funding
additional to ODA has been promised in the future.

Climate change received some attention during the Working Party meetings. This emerging issue is capturing the attention of the international community, but climate matters are complex in techni­cal, financial and political terms. There are no simplistic solutions. Our concern and goal was to make best use of our experiences in aid effectiveness. The lessons we learned as to what works and what does not are obviously relevant in climate affairs, so it is important to be in touch with policymakers at all relevant levels.

So far, the aid effectiveness agenda has not made many headlines. Neither in developing countries nor in developed ones is the general public aware of the issues. The success of public policy, however, depends on public attention. What must the GP do to improve matters?
You are absolutely right to raise this question, and I fully agree that the international development cooperation community has not done enough to make people at large aware of what we are doing. All over the world, the public is entitled to know. It is our responsi­bility as professionals and policymakers to inform them in simple language. There are at least three venues we should use: the media, parliaments and periodic gatherings debating public policy. I also feel that universities should be brought in to incorporate development cooperation in their curricula. The objective is not only to raise awareness, but ultimately to empower people to take part in policymaking. As the recent economic downturn shows no signs of abatement in the immediate future, the public is becoming ever more anxious to see that resources are well utilised in various development initiatives. The GP must show positive results fast. Evidence is the best means of informing and persuasion. We should also be careful not to make promises that we cannot deliver. Credibility is essential.

Debate on the matter is quite abstract, however, which makes it hard to convince people. Can you give an example or two of best development cooperation practice that have evolved from the Paris Declaration?
I would have to refer you to the moni­toring survey reports for more concrete examples. But let me repeat that anyone comparing partner countries’ development plans over the past five years and the priorities they set for development cooperation will quickly see the improvements of such plans and priorities in terms of greater pragmatism and more specific objectives. Reforms of procurement and public financial management systems are afoot and gaining strength in others countries. I also refer to the increase in the number of countries which have established mutual accountability mechanisms with their international partners. Likewise, I was pleased to review the EU’s policy paper on development cooperation which stresses, among other things, the importance of encouraging partner country leadership in formulating future assistance, and advocate the speeding up of an internal reform process within the EU. Another practice worthy of note is what countries like Ghana and Egypt for example are doing to prepare for an aid-exit strategy. This is perhaps the most notable contribution which development cooperation can offer, namely to help countries rely less on traditional aid, stand on their own feet and become more effective players in the global trade and investment settings.

Questions by Hans Dembowski.