November 29, 2011

Progress since Paris? Clearly not enough

At last the countdown to the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4) is over. Governments and the sherpas are finalizing the draft Outcome Document, and civil society, represented in greater numbers than ever before, have completed their “Statement” on the draft Document. The stage is set for tomorrow’s formal opening.

As HLF4 gets underway, several donors, Canada included, have signed on to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) just in time for some media friendly back-slapping and hand shaking. While the addition of new donors to IATI – which aims to make information about aid spending easier to find, use and compare – is welcome (and Canadian CSOs have certainly applauded Canada’s efforts), participants have been less optimistic about post-Busan as they look back on progress since Paris and Accra, the focus of Day 1.

And what kind of progress has there been? Well - not much. Indeed, with the release of the 2011 Survey on Monitoring the Paris Declaration, the Independent Evaluation of the Implementation of the Paris Declaration and The Reality of Aid Special Report on civil society perspectives on progress since Paris in the lead up to HLF4, participants meeting in Busan are quite aware that with a few exceptions, the Paris Process has failed to deliver on its promise of better aid. All three evaluations of the Paris process have shown that, although the aid effectiveness agenda has had some impact on the way aid is delivered, there has been a lack of political will to ensure the full implementation of the Paris Principles and the Accra Agenda for Action.

The 2011 Monitoring Survey demonstrated sobering results. At the global level, only one of the 13 targets established for 2010 to measure the implementation of aid effectiveness commitments has been met, and just barely. Progress has varied across donors, and in some areas, such as reducing aid fragmentation and proliferation, there has been a backsliding. Indeed, Brian Atwood, Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (read, “important person at HLF4”), actually stated that given the lack of progress on reducing aid fragmentation and proliferation - a donor commitment - we should be careful about how optimistic we are with respect to future improvements (a statement which he later retracted - apparently the optics are bad when the Chair of the OECD-DAC says there is little hope).

Indeed, the monitoring survey highlighted little or no progress on aid predictability and the implementation of donor commitments to common arrangements and procedures. Developing countries, on the other hand, have fared better, meeting many of their commitments, such as putting in place sound national development strategies and in some cases national results frameworks.

The Independent Evaluation of the Paris Declaration also found that donors were slower to implement their commitments than developing countries, despite the fact that the expected changes for them were more demanding. According to the report, “donors and agencies have so far demonstrated less commitment than partner countries to making the necessary changes in their own systems.” Nevertheless, the report found that the aid effectiveness process was important in generating norms of good practice, improving the quality of a number of aid partnerships, and relevant to improving aid processes, at least in theory.

While these evaluations were important to monitoring the implementation of Paris commitments, civil society identified a significant gap in the instruments, namely a failure to adequately measure the impact of the aid effectiveness agenda on democratic ownership and development effectiveness.

As a result, the Reality of Aid network (RoA) produced a Special Report looking at progress on the following: creating multi-stakeholder bodies and effective consultative processes to prioritize and monitor development policies; developing an enabling environment for civil society; producing transparency and access to information so as to inform accountability; and formulating poverty indicators that suggest outcomes for poor and vulnerable people.

Like the Monitoring Survey and the Independent Evaluation, RoA found that the aid effectiveness agenda has produced some positives, particularly with limited improvements in the relationships between developing countries and international cooperation partners. It found little evidence, however, of improvements in democratic ownership, highlighting that ownership over the development process has yet to move much beyond the executive arm of government, with a few exceptions. Finally, the RoA concluded that there is a shrinking space for civil society, with issues around transparency remaining, and little or no progress on corruption through independent investigation, legal redress and action (a finding shared both by the Survey and the Evaluation).

So, given the results of these evaluations, what are participants saying in Busan?

CSOs and a limited number of donor governments, including the Danes, the Finns and, believe it or not, the new Italian government are saying that development is not only about economic growth, but “first and foremost it is about fulfilling the rights and needs of people.” More specifically, civil society is insisting that HLF4 results in development policies and practices that are rights-based, that guarantee space for civil society organisations and other non-state actors “in keeping with binding commitments outlined in international and regional instruments that guarantee fundamental rights, and ensure private sector involvement actually contributes to development, while respecting international labour standards and conventions.” The rights of women and girls continue to be neglected. At the same time tied aid (though there have been improvements, 21% remains tied), accountability, and conditionality remain serious challenges.

So, while the results have on the whole been disappointing and there is recognition that global conditions and the development context have changed for the worse, there is nonetheless a general acknowledgement that the development community should not be distracted from the Paris and Accra agenda. Instead we should begin to frame development challenges in the light of a new global context and the need to reach the poorest and most marginalized on the basis of international human rights frameworks.

This blog post was written by Joe Ingram and Shannon Kindornay, The North-South Institute. Both are delegates to the High Level Forum.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of CCIC or its members.

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