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Interview with Thomas Fues, German Development…

“We need an alliance between old and new donors”


Indien ist Geber und zugleich Empfänger von Entwicklungshilfe. Mit deutscher Hilfe errichtete Wasserzapfsäule in West-Bengalen

Indien ist Geber und zugleich Empfänger von Entwicklungshilfe. Mit deutscher Hilfe errichtete Wasserzapfsäule in West-Bengalen

International development cooperation has one more new institution. The United Nations launched the Development Cooperation Forum (DCF) in Geneva in July. It will bring together, under the auspices of the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), government and non-government actors involved in international development cooperation. Thomas Fues, expert on the UN and development issues, sees the Forum as an opportunity to involve new donors such as China in harmonisation efforts.

What is the task of the Development Cooperation Forum?
The forum provides a platform for dialogue between all important actors in development issues, including new donors such as China, India and South Africa, and private agencies such as foundations that are involved in development policy. This fills a gap in the institutional structure, because the OECD’s development assistance committee (DAC) is of course basically an organisation of western industrialised countries, and does not have representatives from the new donors.

What are the objectives of this dialogue?
Firstly, information and data will be compiled on issues such as aid flows, country and project portfolios and sector priorities - similar to what western donors currently do within the DAC. This should provide a basis for statistics and enhance transparency. There is not yet a knowledge base of this kind outside of the DAC. Secondly, measures modelled after the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness will be established to increase the effectiveness of international aid and reduce transaction costs. Examples of such measures are coordination and harmonisation, as well as mutual obligations on the part of donors and recipient countries.

It is already difficult to implement the Paris Declaration among the DAC members. In many cases, not much evidence of coordination can be seen in developing countries. Is it really possible to promote harmonisation in the much larger setting of the DCF?
Yes, it is. You must remember that the Paris process is only two years old. However, I find that even today donors are not able to avoid the harmonisation debate. The strength of the Paris process lies in the fact that tangible indicators were developed to measure progress. This in itself puts a certain pressure on all of those involved and makes it easier to learn from experience. The Paris process is much more than just a non-binding declaration of intention.

Why has another forum been created, rather than extending the Paris process?
The answer can be found in the dynamics of the North-South relationship. Many developing countries have also signed the Paris Declaration, but it is nevertheless an OECD creation. For this reason, some emerging economies in particular do not want to get involved with it. Whether we like it or not, we cannot force developing countries to recognise the authority of the OECD. However, these countries basically have a good attitude, and I believe that we are well-advised to take this up, and to anchor and promote the Paris process under the auspices of the UN.

What will be the relationship between the Paris process and the Development Cooperation Forum? What role will the DAC have in the future?
DAC chair Richard Manning gave an address at the official launch of the DCF. He emphasised that he does not see the Forum as a competitor of the DAC or an alternative to it, but as an important complement. This is similar to the Millennium Development Goals. They were created within the framework of the UN, but other institutions involved in development issues such as the World Bank and the DAC refer to them, produce studies and provide important data. Following this model, a productive relationship can be developed between the DAC and the Development Cooperation Forum, if all of those involved so desire. The DAC will also in future mainly represent the perspective of Western donors, while the UN’s role could be to provide the global stage to integrate all viewpoints. From my perspective, the strategic importance of the DCF lies in the fact that it brings together the existing Western donors with the new donors.

The new donors, and China above all, are blatantly using their aid to pursue their own political and economic interests – in the same way the West did it until the end of the East-West conflict and to a certain extent continues to do. Why would the new donors be interested in harmonising their aid?

In my opinion, China is pursuing a wide range of objectives in its relations with African countries, in particular. They cannot simply be reduced to geopolitical interests, as often happens. There are important players in Chinese politics who have a great interest in genuine development objectives. It must be conceded to the People’s Republic that it seriously considers the development of its partners. I therefore assume that China is serious about its involvement in the Development Cooperation Forum, to increase the usefulness of its aid to Africa.

The recipient countries do not form a homogeneous group either. Some approve of China’s manner of providing aid while others are critical of it. Many small countries suffer under the multiplicity of donors, while others are able to exploit it to their advantage. Could differences of this kind obstruct the DCF?
This is of course possible. I am still hesitant to predict what practical effect the Forum will have for international development cooperation. Many UN processes unfortunately are characterised by becoming stalled, or at best resulting in agreements based on the lowest common denominator. The crucial thing in my view is that there is an alliance between innovative existing and new donors, both government and non-government. If this is successful, then a dynamic could develop which results in the recipient countries recognising the value of coordination and harmonisation. It would be important for the European Union as the forerunner to reach an understanding quickly with new donors such as China, India and Brazil. Then the recipients will also get on board.

What role do non-government organisations play in the DCF?
They have an important role – and this was even recognised by the G77 group of developing countries and China. This is one aspect which has pleasantly surprised me. NGOs, and likewise the business sector, are represented on the Forum’s twenty-member Advisory Board, for example. The board is thus consistent with what I see as a modern concept of global governance. What is interesting from a policy perspective is that the developing countries recognise the importance of non-government actors in the DCF. In other respects, they typically insist on the intergovernmental exclusiveness of the United Nations. The NGOs in turn accept their responsibility for greater coordination and harmonisation by being involved with the Forum.

The individual agencies within the United Nations are also to cooperate more closely, so as to make their development efforts more efficient. At country level, they are to appear as “One UN”. Are strong UN agencies such as the World Food Programme (WFP) really prepared to limit their autonomy?

They have to. The UN sub-agencies report to the Secretary General and are controlled by the General Assembly. They have no institutional autonomy. However, coordination is not easy. UNICEF, for example, has resisted “One UN” for a long time. Meantime, however, to my knowledge, the cooperation is running very well between the four key agencies, UNICEF, WFP, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Development Programme (UNDP). It will be more difficult with the UN special agencies such as the World Health Organisation and the World Bank which are institutionally autonomous. But there are also positive approaches for them becoming involved in harmonisation. These agencies are aware that they will be marginalised in the medium-term if they do not get involved with “One UN”.

The World Bank is still labouring under its leadership crisis, the International Monetary Fund has been seeking a new role for a long time and the World Trade Organisation cannot get itself out of the Doha crisis. Is this an opportunity for the United Nations to strengthen its position in international development and economic policy?

Reforms such as “One UN” and strengthening ECOSOC by setting up the Development Cooperation Forum are certainly steps in the right direction. However, in my view it would be over-confident to expect alternatives for global governance. The United Nations are a long way from that. Other practical fora are needed for global governance issues, both within and outside of the UN. The Heiligendamm Process (the dialogue between the G8 countries and Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa) is an important step, but it is still not enough. The role of the major emerging economies in global decision-making structures must be strengthened. For example, it would be a wonderful indication of European openness to a new policy if the EU would abstain from appointing the next IMF director, and left the way open for a candidate from an emerging economy.

Questions by Tillmann Elliesen.