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Reforming technical cooperation

Breathing organisation

by Tom Pätz
The new centre-right coalition in Germany wants to streamline the country’s complicated multitude of governmental aid agencies. The goal is clear, but the floor is still open to ideas and proposals to help achieve it. [ By Tom Pätz ]

“They all want to support our work,” says Basilo Arauch from Indonesia. “But I often do not understand how one differs from another, and what their various core competencies are.” Parviz Norov from Tajikistan and Karina Ruiz from the Dominican Republic agree with this assessment of Germany’s development agencies. And these people know what they’re talking about, as all three are involved in coordinating development cooperation in their countries.

What's worse, they still did not understand things much better after taking part in an InWEnt programme that had the explicit goal of explaining Germany’s development policy and the relevant institutions in September last year. Representatives of GTZ, KfW, DED, InWEnt, CIM and the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) made presentations. The event was well done, and so were the presentations. Nonetheless, the result was confusion. And how could it be any different, given that the mul­titude of German agencies is indeed confusing?

Germany has been involved in development affairs for more than 50 years. German schools have partnerships with schools in Africa, Asia and Latin America. German universities and municipalities are part of global networks. There is also a wide range of private initiatives to support projects around the world. Businesses, churches and political foundations are involved in such efforts. Moreover, several German Länder (states) have formed partnerships with countries of the global south, and almost all of the country’s Federal Ministries are engaged in tasks that, according to the OECD, qualify as official development assistance (ODA).

The German public is interested in people in other countries, as is evident, for instance, in generous donations after natural disasters. Young people in particular take interest in global-development issues. German engagement is appreciated around the world.

Equally appreciated is the work done by GTZ, InWEnt and DED, the three main government-run development agencies for capacity building and technical cooperation. Each of them has perfected its toolkit and is operating smoothly. All three have their own structures, formats, standard operating procedures, identities, staff and offices abroad. In general, our partners agree that these agencies are top performers.

That may look nice – but it is not the whole story. In practice, the cooperation among German development agencies is often rather superficial. Cooperation must become deeper for them to tap synergies. This problem was recognised a long time ago. Indeed, debate on the great variety of German development agencies has been going on for three decades. Experience has shown, moreover, that good coordination is what allows us to use the various instruments most effectively and efficiently.

In the past few years, there have already been efforts to deepen cooperation between GTZ, InWEnt and DED. The catchword was “single-mould” development cooperation. In many cases, however, this lofty goal was more vision than reality.

In its coalition agreement last fall, Germany’s new government agreed that the situation must change and that the institutions of technical cooperation will merge. In his inaugural address, Development Minister Dirk Niebel stated that the funds available for reaching Millennium Development Goals will have to be used more effectively. He added that the merging of redundant structures will boost performance.

The reform of Germany’s technical-cooperation agencies has begun. In December, Niebel met with the executives of the various agencies and invited them to play an active role in the reform process. Constructive dialogue has thus begun. The agencies have created task forces to study legal ramifications and other implications. The task forces include members from various actors in civil society, industry and the German Länder that hold stakes in DED and InWEnt.

The BMZ is also discussing this reform with other federal agencies, such as the Finance Ministry, the Foreign Office and other federal departments as well as the Federal Audit Office. The auditors, in particular, have a history of repeatedly complaining about German development efforts being implemented by too many agencies.

Ambitious programme

The reform path has not yet been completely paved, but the destination is becoming clearer. What is needed is an organisation that builds on the strengths of the current institutions. That is easier said than done; the challenges are daunting indeed:
– The specific capacities of GTZ, InWEnt and DED must be retained. All three are successful institutions that have spawned their own structures, identities and procedures. By merging them in an innovative way, their prowess must be enhanced.
– The three organisations are legally quite different. Their funding is different, and they have different duties. For instance, Germany’s act on development aid applies to the DED, but not to GTZ or
InWEnt. The new organisation will have to provide an appropriate, unified legal basis for all relevant activities.
– The merger will create an organisation with more than 14,000 employees in around 130 countries. Its revenue may easily exceed an annual € 1.5 billion. While this new institution will have to be dynamic, flexible and creative, it must not become an uncontrollable behemoth.
– The Federal Government is not the sole owner of InWEnt and DED. Civil-society organisations, industry unions and the German Länder also hold stakes. The new agency must not become a closed, monolithic block; rather, it has to be
interconnected with the many facets of German society.
– The new agency will have to act in harmony with Germany’s financial cooperation. This is another area where synergies have to be taken advantage of.
– In the past, there were complaints about the Development Ministry (BMZ) lacking control. Critics would joke that the tail (the agencies) was wagging the dog (the BMZ). BMZ control will be facilitated once there is a single, coherent agency for technical cooperation. The Ministry will finally be in the position to define policy and leave implementation to the agencies.

This reform project is ambitious. It is not only about merging three organisations by a legal act and the definition of new chains of command. The list of objectives shows that the future of Germany’s development cooperation is at stake.

What we need is what we call a “breathing organisation” in Germany. It must be able to react flexibly and dynamically to new challenges, but it must make sure that all of its actions are coherent at the same time. The current instruments of German development policy are fine, but they need better coordination to be most effective. To this end, we have to understand exactly what the specific strengths of these instruments are and how they can be best employed.

By Easter, German Development Minister Dirk Niebel will present a conceptual proposal to the public. By summer, the concept will be fleshed out in close cooperation with all parties involved. By autumn, concrete preparations are to begin for the merger.

For the reform to succeed, we need debate. Opinions have to be expressed and tried in public. In Germany, development policy is a hot topic in a number of different forums, with a wide range of stakeholders taking part. Such an amount of inputs is beneficial, and giving it scope reflects the worldview of Germany’s Free Democrats, the party Minister Niebel belongs to.

Public debate is of particular relevance to making development policy, which is, by definition, about conceptual change and processes of implementation. It is well understood, furthermore, that the enforcement of principles like the rule of law, democracy and freedom always depends on open, lively and constructive debate. That is so all over the world. It matters to understand the views of other people affected by and involved in these issues.

In the end, Germany must not only preach change, but live change as well. Yohannes Wolde Giorgis of Ethiopia, one of the participants at the event in September 2009, put it this way: “If Germany does not manage to reform its development agencies and prepare them for the future, the country will lose the credibility it needs to tell us to reform our ways.”