Big International Aid Forum Loses It’s Way

Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Commentary

By Jason Brown

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, April 22, 2014) – Last week, we can be forgiven if the country was focused on domestic, rather than foreign affairs.

After all, it is not every day that a minister resigns.

In fact this is only the second time in living memory, so obviously it’s a big deal.

Big enough for even the opposition to get all teary eyed and, in a spirit of forgiveness, move to adopt the Officers of Parliament Committee review of the audit report for 2009-2010.

Those two documents have proven hugely controversial, and for good reason.

Government has been avoiding its own promises of transparency and accountability for years, with the last publicly available audit report dating back to 2008.

So the failure to debate the reports was expected, yet the way it happened was completely unexpected.

At the same time as issues surrounding those documents were given a quiet death, foreign affairs were heating up across the other side of the Pacific.

Meeting in Mexico City, delegates from Samoa and dozens of other countries and organisations were sitting down to discuss challenges facing "effective development."

Run by the O.E.C.D., the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a rich-country club, and U.N.D.P., the United Nations Development Programme; G.P.E.D.C., the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation at first glance seems to be widely representative, with 161 governments and 61 organisations counted as members.

Indeed, at the last major meeting of this type, the partnership was hailed as a breakthrough as it saw the involvement, for the first time, of new aid players like China, India and Brazil.

Delegates in Busan, South Korea in 2011 were so optimistic they talked about a new era with a dramatic expansion of responsibility.

Not to talk about just aid.

All development.

The partnership was supposed to bring together not just governments, but also businesses, and civil society, including non governmental organisations like charities and relief agencies.

Samoa plays an important part at the partnership, with Assistant Chief Executive Officer Noumea Simi from the Ministry of Finance one of just five representatives for recipients of aid.

Fast forward three years, however, and two of those big new players, India and China, pulled out of the follow up conference in Mexico.

That boycott got no media attention in the West, and almost nothing in the East – a couple of sentences in a few newspapers and news websites.

They boycotted, according to the story, because India and China "had concerns over the conference’s approach to South-South cooperation and the binding nature of the meeting’s outcome document."

In the end, the high level meeting was less than fully wide spread, with 1,500 participants from over 130 countries attending – 31 fewer countries than there might have been.

Doubts about the expanded responsibility were raised even before the conference started.

The influential "Poverty Matters" blog run by the Guardian newspaper from the United Kingdom questioned "Will competing UN and OECD partnerships stymie aid effectiveness?"

Author Jonathan Glennie reported that "Two global partnerships are creating tension and could negate attempts to monitor and improve development co-operation."

He noted that there was no room on the meeting agenda for what happens after the United Nations led M.D.G.s, the Millennium Development Goals, expire in 2015.

What happens after is increasingly referred to as "post-2015", with The Guardian saying there appears to be little "effective" talk between the two organisations, which is strange for a partnership that is supposed to be about making aid more effective.

"The whole point of the meeting in Mexico should be to discuss how the GPEDC fits in to post-2015, how it can be a part of the "how" when the "what" is signed in New York in September next year. But that discussion is not even on the agenda," he wrote.

Just as the partnership is ignoring the United Nations, the Guardian reports, so is the United Nations basically ignoring the partnership.

These points were picked up closer to home by the Development Policy Centre, a part of the Australia National University.

Worse, Research Officer Benjamin Day noted that the partnership’s draft programme was actually ignoring the role of aid in development.

"To me, it looks like an over-correction: broadening the conversation from effective aid to effective development is one thing; reluctance to squarely address the ongoing importance of aid in achieving effective development is another," he wrote.

Ignoring the role of aid in development is bad for aid effectiveness, and bad for development.

Those who value concepts of "aid for trade" may think of that kind of move positively but those who still see aid as a means of relieving poverty will see it as an absurdity.

It also means Samoa may have to reconsider its approach when it comes to influencing what happens after 2015.

For all the problems associated with the former minister of Finance, many of them avoided at the last moment, Samoa can still claim to regional leadership in having at least some institutions that function as they are supposed to.

Samoa can argue that those institutions, such as Audit and Parliament, are providing accountability, adding value to government transparency.

What Samoa needs to do next is push for that kind of domestic leadership to take greater importance on the global stage.

For in a world suffering from a lack of tax transparency, and finance accountability, that is exactly the kind of leadership that is needed.

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