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Expert opinion

Lasting relevance

by Wolf Dagmar


Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general, and Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico’s president, during the opening ceremony of the High-Level Meeting.

Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general, and Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico’s president, during the opening ceremony of the High-Level Meeting.

Aid effectiveness as defined in the Paris Declaration of 2005 is still on the world agenda. A recent proof was the first High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) in Mexico City in mid-April. More than 1500 persons from 145 countries took part. To assess the relevance, D+C/E+Z asked several participants three questions.

What results of the High-Level Meeting (HLM) are promising in your eyes?

Jorge Pérez Pineda, researcher at Mora Institute, a Mexican think tank: From a global point of view, the achievements to provide continuity to the international efforts to build a global partnership are good. From a national point of view, I’d emphasise the three main aspects that Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto mentioned in his opening address:

  • institutionalising the basic principles of the effective international cooperation,
  • widening and improving the quality of international aid, with special focus on the dual role of Mexico as a developing country and a southern provider of development assistance, and
  • promoting an inclusive global partnership in order to face the challenges of the post-2015 agenda.

Tony Tujan, international director of the IBON Foundation, a Filipino non-governmental institution: We welcome the commitments on inclusive development, untying aid, democratic ownership, enhanced taxation and use of country systems, gender equality and women’s empowerment and – most importantly – the support for civil society organisations.

Florence Nazare, head of the capacity-development initiative of the African Union’s NEPAD (New Partnership for African Development): There are several good points:

  • The reaffirmation of aid only being one part of a bigger whole. It should work in sync with country and regional priorities, as well as with domestic financing for development. This is important because it emphasises the alignment of development cooperation with inclusive growth and development.
  • The explicit recognition of the contribution of aid to development with the understanding that it should be used as a trigger for development through a focus on essential priorities such as domestic resource mobilisation (DRM). In this context, the global community’s clear commitment to better support corporate governance in the extractive industries with the goal of curbing illicit financial flows is most welcome. It also endorsed innovative financing instruments such as special infrastructure funds, sovereign wealth and stabilisation funds and pledged to strengthen the capacities of regional stock markets.
  • The clear reference to strengthening private-sector contributions to development. For good reason, the focus is on the growth of domestic enterprises to boost value addition in an overall framework of industrial growth and development.
  • The opening up of a dialogue on the legitimacy of "middle-income-country" classification and its shortcomings in terms of eclipsing poverty and inequality.

Talaat Abdel-Malek, former co-chair of the OECD/DAC Working Party on Aid Effectiveness: Progress has been made in certain areas including stronger ownership and developing-country priorities. Many developing countries continue to go ahead with reforming their policies and systems, including more transparency and more involvement by civil society, though the latter still applies to relatively few countries. These reforms appear to be continuing regardless of the slow reform action by most rich nations. That said, there is progress in the untying of aid. Some countries are paying more serious attention – and some have already taken action – to strengthen mutual and domestic accountability mechanisms. Finally, we now have closer collaboration between the GPEDC and the UN.

Sachin Chaturvedi, professor at the Research and Information System for Developing Countries, a think tank based in New Delhi: The GPEDC has emerged as an important platform for deliberations among aid providers and recipients. It reflects the spirit behind the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.

Erik Solheim, chair of the OECD/DAC: The most important thing is that the Global Partnership has grown. It has established itself as the main body for exchange of views and experience on which policies work, and which do not work when it comes to eradicating poverty and promoting development. The most concrete result from Mexico was the call to curb illicit capital flows and the establishment of proper tax systems.

Thomas Fues, head of the training department at the German Development Institute: The significance of south-south cooperation (SSC) was widely acknowledged, particularly from low-income countries. Voices from southern providers, partner countries and traditional donors converged in calling for enhanced transparency, evaluation and impact assessment of SSC. With the aim of closing critical knowledge gaps in this regard, a network of southern think tanks called Nest was founded at the sidelines of the HLM. It intends to work on concepts and methodologies reflecting the specifics of SSC.

Thomas Silberhorn, parliamentary state secretary to Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ): The broad-based participation – with active involvement of governments from donor and partner countries, civil society, multilateral organisations, parliaments, the private sector and academia – proved just how relevant the aid-effectiveness agenda still is two and a half years after Busan. It is evident that this kind of conference is needed to build trust and create policy space. The various forums resulted in valuable impetus. The summit stressed the relevance of managing for results, providing transparency and reducing fragmentation. There can be no doubt that we must align to the goals and the procedures of our partner countries. In my eyes, the debate proved that the GPEDC is about qualitative dimensions, including increasing policy ownership of developing countries. It was encour­aging that, in regard to the post-2015 goals, the African countries themselves emphasised their need to mobilise their own resources for development. We are thus no longer merely discussing how much official development assistance (ODA) is needed to attain post-2015 goals. Instead, we are now also considering other sources of funding, including tax revenues in developing countries or contributions from the private sector, without, however, abandoning ODA pledges. From the German standpoint, it matters in particular that the post-2015 agenda must comply with the principles of effectiveness and accountability. Finally, it was a good sign that Mexico, an emerging market and south-south donor, was the host and succeeded in brokering compromise on the final declaration.


What was disappointing?

Jorge Pérez Pineda: The absence – and lack of compromise – of countries such as India, China or Brazil.

Sachin Chaturvedi: It was disappointing to see that China and India did not participate. This has deflated the OECD-led efforts to create a global platform where north-south providers and south-south cooperation partners come together for addressing major global challenges and exploring possible collective solutions. The immediate implication is that we have returned to the pre-Busan world, where separate trajectories contributed to the fragmentation and at times even duplication of development efforts. The trouble seems to be that the OECD is not letting the GPEDC blossom on its own. The agenda, the communiqué, the choice of speakers at the plenaries largely reflected its narrative. The issues that the UK has been raising were dominant, including domestic tax reforms and the role of private sector.

Thomas Fues: The HLM suffered from the lack of support by the big three southern providers. While China and India had opted to stay away without further explanation, Brazil’s delegation explicitly stated in Mexico that they are not part of the GPEDC, but wanted to stay engaged. That was a setback to Busan, where all southern providers had supported the outcome document after much haggling in 2011. The GPEDC is still seen – and rejected – by some as an OECD/DAC-driven process which lacks legitimacy. Some southern providers, moreover, appear to be constrained by inadequate staff compared with the legions of specialised professionals from established donor countries.

Erik Solheim: Most disappointing was the fact that China did not take part, due to small divergences over the commu­niqué. We should avoid such unnecessary disagreements next time. There is no need for long statements; the focus should be on positive results on the ground.

Thomas Silberhorn: Some major emerging-market nations such as China, India and Brazil are still struggling with the aid-effectiveness agenda. China cancelled its delegation shortly before the summit, but was nonetheless involved in negotiating the final declaration in background cooperation with Brazil and Argentina. In our eyes, this procedure was a bit obscure. It is obvious, however, that a lot of trust must yet be built in order to make progress on transparency and sustainability in cooperation with south-south donors. On the other hand, all other developing countries – including important emerging markets such as Mexico, Peru, Indonesia or South Africa – support the GPEDC in the context of SSC. Furthermore, more needs to happen to involve the private sector. Though all constituents are involved in the GPEDC steering committee, a lot remains to be done to fully implement the aid-effectiveness agenda.

Tony Tujan: None of the commitments are new. The failure to commit to other issues leaves us deeply concerned. Civil-society organisations urged governments to guarantee mechanisms for enabling environment for civil-society space. Human rights-based approaches also need to be agreed and implemented by all stakeholders. Yet, no concrete commitments have been made. This is in sharp contrast to the GPEDC’s unbalanced promotion of the private sector.

Florence Nazare: The most important downside was that, while importance of linking the GPEDC to the post-2015 debate was recognised, the "how" was not sufficiently interrogated. The issue needs further thinking, especially in regard to how the UN and OECD partners are gearing themselves, for instance in regard to supporting inclusive growth. Moreover, GPEDC commitments are still voluntary. Binding commitments would give the GPEDC more traction.

Talaat Abdel-Malek: One big issue is that Busan and earlier accords were voluntary and hence non-binding. These agreements were formulated and endorsed by a "coalition of the willing"; but I wonder if the non-binding nature has loosened many countries and agencies commitments. Another disappointment was the slow pace of fulfilling commitments, especially by many assistance providers in regard to Paris and Accra. I am tempted to ask whether this is "unfinished" or "un­finishable" business.


What must happen next?

Jorge Pérez Pineda: The debate seems to contain three discourses:

  • the north-south relationship,
  • south-south relationships and triangular cooperation and
  • options for the convergence of both models.

The third approach deserves support as it may become the basis for what is needed to achieve post-2015 goals.

Tony Tujan: There should be a clear commitment to policy coherence between the GPEDC and the ongoing UN processes on climate and development goals that fulfil human rights as well as gender equality principles and standards.

Florence Nazare: At their next meetings, the steering committee and other bodies of the GPEDC should obviously pay attention to the many challenges. Beyond that it is worth mentioning that Africa has always had effective development cooperation as part of its renewal agenda, and it will continue its work towards strengthening systemic capacities at the country and regional levels in order to benefit from cooperation, using aid to catalyse its overall development. This includes ongoing efforts to strengthen the role of regional economic communities in furtherance of Africa’s regional integration agenda for the desired transformation. Regional dialogue will also continue in the context of the Africa Development Effectiveness Platform for lesson learning and knowledge exchange, which is run by AU/NEPAD. Finally, the GPEDC angle on domestic resource mobilisation (DRM) will help to consolidate Africa’s own efforts, for example through the African Union Industrialisation Strategy, the Thabo Mbeki High-Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa or the Obasanjo Alternative Sources of Financing initiative.

Talaat Abdel-Malek: We know that behaviour change requires time, political courage and sustained commitment. Obviously, leadership from the GPEDC is needed. In this regard, I believe the two-year term of the three co-chairs is too short. Additionally, many people I talked to, said the "global light" approach may be a little "too light". The architecture is indeed slim, with three co-chairs and a limited number of steering-committee members, instead of the 80-member OECD/DAC Working Party we had pre-Busan. However, the GPEDC lacks an operating arm on a day-to-day basis. I remain optimistic about the GPEDC, but concerns should be addressed without delay.

Sachin Chaturvedi: The only meaningful way forward is to encourage the UN either to take up its role in the GPEDC, where at this point UNDP is only a second fiddle to the OECD, or to streamline outputs from the UN Development Cooperation Forum. I feel the UN would be the only platform where neutrality would allow free and frank discussions.

Erik Solheim: The co-chairs should lead us towards a much stronger GPEDC focusing on:

  • setting right policies for development,
  • monitoring our commitments,
  • promoting more and better aid,
  • modernising the development debate with a focus on the right policies on taxes and the private sector,
  • and in sum: establishing an inclusive partnership embracing all nations as well as business, civil society and other actors.

Thomas Fues: As the Big Three, China, India and Brazil, used the HLM to demonstrate their withdrawal from the GPEDC, the desired universality of the Busan Partnership remains a dream. It seems that only a re-orientation towards the UN can heal the birth defect of wanting legitimacy. Therefore, GPEDC should transform itself into a technical platform for international cooperation under the political guidance of the newly established UN High-Level Political Forum that will oversee the implemen­tation of the post-2015 global agenda.

Thomas Silberhorn: The essential issue is to better involve all constituents of the GPEDC. Not only donors must act, developing countries and emerging markets have a special responsibility to facilitate participation within their group. It would make sense to continue the support that was started at the country level in the context of global monitoring. It is important to boost the capacities of statistical offices and planning ministries. Moreover, we must integrate the impetus from GPEDC into the post-2015 debate.



Communiqué adopted in Mexico City: