November 25, 2011

Will Korea’s ambition rub off on the outcomes of HLF-4?

The city of Busan, Korea’s second largest city, brings the metaphor of the “East Asian Tiger” to life.

Upon arriving at the airport, travelers are greeted by the words “Korea – Beyond expectation.” From high above the city of Busan, the view reveals an incredible contrast between the highly developed business areas and their 100 story skyscrapers - true modern architectural pieces of art – that carve their way through rolling green hills and mountains, barely contained by the Pacific Ocean. Korea’s transformation over the past 50 years is a testament to the ambition that Seoul has for the global stage.  

In 1950, during the Korean War, tens of thousands of Koreans fled to Busan, on the South Eastern coast, looking for safe refuge, and finding it in a huge camp city that dominated the Busan landscape until 1953. The war left Korea devastated – destroying two-thirds of the countries production facilities, and leaving  high unemployment across the country. During the reconstruction period from 1953-1960, over 70 percent of Korea’s imports were financed by foreign aid. Fifty years later, and Korea had become a provider of official development assistance, giving in 2007 USD$680 million in aid (about one-eight of current Canadian ODA).

Indeed, ambitious seems like an apt description for today’s Korea, actively positioning itself as a leader on the global stage. In a period of three years, it will have played host to the G20 meeting in Seoul in 2010, the High Level Forum in 2011 in Busan, and the World Expo 2012 in Yeosu.  

Civil society organizations (CSOs) from around the world have brought their own ambitions to Busan. Starting tomorrow (Saturday) through to Monday, upwards of 800 CSO representatives will gather at the Busan Civil Society Forum (BCSF), an event that originally expected some 500 participants. CSOs will finalize preparation of key messages for the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4), which starts on November 29 and runs through to December 1. The BCSF will ensure a high degree of coordination and organization at HLF4, at an event that will attract 2000 participants, including more than 100 Ministers and 40 heads of international organizations. Indeed, the Civil Society Forum promises to ensure that the 300 civil society participants in HLF4 will be one of the most organized groups heading into the final round of negotiations on the fifth version Busan Outcome Document (BOD).

A CSO team has been working intensely in the past couple of weeks to support Tony Tujan, Chairperson of BetterAid, a platform of more than 900 organizations, and the CSO “Sherpa” at the negotiating table.  Ever since the Third High Level Forum in Accra, where civil society were recognized as “independent development actors in their own right”, BetterAid has been an official member of the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness (WP-Eff) – the entity that is driving this process.

The fifth version of the BOD was completed a few days ago. On November 28th a final round of pre-HLF4 negotiations will take place, resulting in the final version of the BOD that will go to the Ministers for consideration during HLF4. They could accept it as is. Or open up negotiations again.

So how have the negotiations gone so far? The fifth version realizes some clear CSO ambitions for the outcomes from HLF4. To mention just a few, BOD5 includes a set of fairly progressive “shared principles for common goals” that provide the guidelines for all development actors present in Busan – non-Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donors, DAC donors, partner governments and CSOs. In terms of specifics, for example, the second principle, “focus on results,” states that efforts “must have a lasting impact on eradicating poverty and reducing inequality, on sustainable development, and on enhancing developing countries’ capacities.”  Here, there is implicit recognition that results are about development outcomes.  And transparency has been added to the fourth principle on accountability. The shared principle is now “transparency and accountability to each other,” and it recognizes that transparency forms the basis of enhanced accountability. Reference to the International Aid Transparency Initiative, which had been hotly contested by some donors, seems to have survived the final round of pre-HLF4 negotiations.

There have also been important additions to the key paragraph for civil society, paragraph 21. It now recognizes that CSOs “play a vital role in enabling people to claim their rights.” This recognition implies a rights-based approach for CSOs – even if human rights can barely be found anywhere else in the document. This paragraph also reinforces the commitment of CSOs to improve their accountability and development practices, and acknowledges both the Istanbul Principles and the International Framework on CSO Development Effectiveness.

Despite these gains, clarity around what is meant by a “CSO enabling environment” is still absent. In particular, CSOs have argued that human rights, such as freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, provide the necessary foundation for an enabling environment. Although CSOs proposed specific text to this end for the BOD, some governments involved in the negotiation processes have been unwilling to include it. (Canada has been (surprisingly) supportive.)

Finally, the life of the WP-Eff – which was supposed to end in Busan – has been extended until June 2012, to help guide the development of indicators and a monitoring framework for Busan, and to steer the development of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation. And civil society will, presumably, still have a seat in that process.

Many are hoping for an ambitious outcome from Busan that receives strong political endorsement by Ministers who arrive in town in four days. While this sentiment has characterized the negotiations thus far, it is unclear whether the ambition of the document will resonate with the 100 plus Ministers that are expected. Each may be keen to put their own political stamp on an outcome that will shape the face of aid for at least the next five years.

“Beyond expectation” ?  You can’t but hope that some of the drive and ambition Korea has shown in the past 50 years might rub off on the coming week’s events, and help create a new, inclusive, and legitimate Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation.

This blog was written by Shannon Kindornay, The North-South Institute, Brian Tomlinson, AidWatch Canada, and Fraser Reilly-King, Canadian Council for International Co-operation.

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

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