December 1, 2011

A happy ending in Busan? Take One

In contrast to the rather mild weather that characterized the first two days of the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4), the final day was met with a cold, rainy morning – gloomy to be sure, pathetic fallacy maybe. After all, the final day held the promise of a new Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation and participants descended on Bexco – the HLF4 venue – eager to see how the final act would play out in Busan.

And how did it all end? Was HLF4 a comedy? A tragedy? Well, perhaps that depends on your perspective. Participants spent the final day discussing the post-Busan agenda and topped it off with a closing ceremony where – with much fanfare and self-congratulation – delegates highlighted important gains and how they will take the outcome document forward.

And what are the important gains? Here’s my take:

Transparency: the Busan Outcome Document (BOD) makes transparency and accountability one of the shared principles for all development partners. Participants agreed to implement “a common, open standard for electronic publication of timely, comprehensive and forward-looking information on resources provided through development co-operation [...] with the aim of implementing it fully by December 2015.” In addition, countries like the United States and Canada, as well as donors such as the Inter-American Development Bank and International Fund for Agricultural Development have signed on to the International Aid Transparency Initiative, which aims to make information about aid spending easier to find, use and compare.

New Deal for Fragile States: a “New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States” was struck in Busan committing parties that endorsed to “support inclusive country led and country owned transitions out of fragility based on a country-led fragility assessment developed by the g7+ [group of fragile and conflict affected states] with the support of international partners, a country-led one vision and one plan, a country compact to implement the plan, using the Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs) to monitor progress, and support inclusive and participatory political dialogue.” This New Deal was welcomed in the BOD.

Enabling Environment for Civil Society: While civil society would have liked to see more gains in the BOD on, for example, broad commitment to the rights-based approach and more recognition on the lack of progress against Paris and Accra, CSOs successfully negotiated the inclusion of reference to international rights in relation to commitments on an enabling environment – a key ask for civil society. The final BOD reads that governments will “implement fully respective commitments to enable CSOs to exercise their roles as independent development actors, with a particular focus on an enabling environment, consistent with agreed international rights, that maximises the contributions of CSOs to development.”
Of course, there are also areas of mixed success.

Enlarging the tent: A goal for HLF4 was to develop a Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. Organizers wanted to broaden the number of actors engaged in aid effectiveness discussions, bringing Southern providers of development assistance and private sector actors into the fold. Countries like China, India and Brazil have endorsed the shared principles in the BOD, effectively enlarging the tent from what was historically a traditional donor driven agenda. However, this victory is bittersweet as these countries have not signed on to any specific commitments. Nevertheless, this success has prompted the Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, Brian Atwood to shout from the rooftops that the OECD is no longer a “rich men’s club.” He later suggested that future meetings of the Global Partnership – which is to be an inclusive, representative body that oversees the commitments made in Busan at the global level – could be held in conjunction with OECD DAC High Level Ministerial Meetings. The irony of this suggestion, following on the heels of his earlier statement, was not lost on this blogger.

Beyond Aid: The BOD broadened the aid effectiveness agenda to development cooperation. While it references the role of the private sector, south-south cooperation and triangular cooperation, combating corruption and illicit flows, and climate change finance, it does not spell out a broad agenda for better policy coherence for development. In other words, it does not challenge the systemic problems facing developing countries, such as, for example, unfair trade policies on agriculture subsidies and non-tariff barriers, or work to better facilitate the transfer of remittances from developed countries to the developing world – key challenges facing developing countries whose solution would greatly benefit development efforts. But then again, maybe movement on these issues is too much to expect from a High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. Nevertheless, the agenda has broadened, and this should be welcomed. Perhaps it represents the first step towards putting these systemic issues on the table.

So how will these gains be taken forward?

The outcome document essentially discusses the post-Busan agenda in two ways, first in terms of how commitments will be monitored and evaluated, and secondly, in terms of the institutional makeup that will oversee these processes. At this point, participants have essentially agreed to agree later on both fronts, and there seems to be little urgency in terms of taking these important commitments forward. Nevertheless the outcome document provides some general guidance in both areas.

Participants in Busan have extended a lifeline to the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness (WP-EFF), which has historically overseen the high level process and monitoring of commitments, and whose mandate was supposed to be up in Busan. On the issue of indicators, by June 2012, the WP-EFF will decide on how commitments are monitored and evaluated at the global level. Monitoring and evaluation at the country level will be decided through nationally-led multi-stakeholder processes. Indeed, the mantra of the post-Busan agenda has become “global light, country heavy.” Participants have agreed to develop a selective and relevant set of indicators and targets to monitor progress at the global level – the bulk of their focus however, will be at the country level.

And who will oversee the monitoring and evaluation process?

The BOD commits participants to a “new, inclusive and representative Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation to support and ensure accountability for the implementation of commitments at the political level.” The sentiment in Busan is that the lack of progress on Paris and Accra is a result of little political support for the aid effectiveness agenda, as highlighted in CCIC’s blog on Day 1 of HLF4. In response, the BOD suggests that the Global Partnership will be characterized by regular ministerial-level engagement – this is a bid to develop and maintain political support for the BOD and its implementation. These meetings would be held in conjunction with other fora.

The outcome document also invites the UN Development Cooperation Forum – a multi-stakeholder forum within the UN that dialogues on issue relating to development cooperation – to play a role. It also refers to the OECD and the UNDP, which may play an important role in monitoring global and national commitments.
So, is Busan a comedy, tragedy or something else? Only time will tell, as the answer to this question is – like its predecessors in Paris and Accra – all in the implementation.

This blog post was written by Shannon Kindornay, The North-South Institute, and delegate to the Fourth 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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