Will this week’s aid and development gabfest in Mexico be just another boring conference or a milestone in ensuring development works for the poor?

April 14, 2014

     By Duncan Green     

It’s aid week here on the blog. To kick off, Oxfam policy adviser Nicola McIvor sets the scene for a big international conference in Mexico. Tomorrow and NicolaMcIvorWednesday, Angus Deaton and I have an argument about whether aid helps or harms development. Who knows, you may even get to vote.

The development world is at a critical juncture as Mexico City this week hosts the first High-level Meeting (HLM) of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC).  OK, the title isn’t sexy, but government representatives and parliamentarians from both traditional donors and emerging providers of development cooperation like Indonesia, China and Mexico, as well as NGOs, trade unions; and multinational corporations will all be there. If you follow development debates, you will want to know what happens.

Mexico provides an opportunity to assess whether donors and recipient countries are living up to the commitments they made in Busan and are on track to meet their targets in 2015. But will it be one of those pointless development conferences where government officials pat each other on the back in an orgy of self-congratulation, or a genuine effort to tackle difficult issues in ensuring development cooperation is useful to people living in poverty? So far, I’m afraid it’s looking more like the former. Here’s what’s at stake:

People could lose their voice and opportunity to drive their own development: Inclusive development – the acknowledgement that development is driven by people through open dialogues between country governments and their citizens, was a key outcome of Busan. But it is being resisted by most governments in current discussions. For inclusive development to take place civil society organisations must have the space to operate and enable a people-driven approach, ensuring accountability from the bottom up.  Yet since Busan we have seen a rise in the number of governments closing this space. The indicator on an enabling environment for civil society was discredited, because of ‘technical issues’, in the monitoring report on progress since Busan. Will governments commit to reverse this shrinking space, and agree on a way to measure progress ? Or will we end up with a top down, ‘expert’-led approach that ignores the voices of the people?

aid satire 1Donors could get away with sidestepping their own responsibilities whilst continuing to ‘assess’ those of recipient countries: After recipient countries out performed donors in the Paris Monitoring survey, some donors sought to scale back the ambitions of new global indicators to hold all partners (whether they give aid or receive it) accountable in development cooperation.  The first progress report on the Busan monitoring framework, which provides the details of country-by-country performance of recipient countries but less detailed assessments of donor performance, suggests that donors are unwilling to be judged and ranked.  Participants at the HLM should be asking what direction the monitoring report is going in.  Do we want to see country-by-country reporting to ensure that citizens can hold donors and their governments to account?

Does the private sector deserve a seat at the table? Some refer to the private sector as the new donor darling and there is certainly a growing recognition of the important role the private sector can play in tackling poverty and stimulating economic growth. Busan even recognised the private sector as equal partners in development policy. However, to maximise the impact of development cooperation, the private sector must implement the Busan commitments to deliver real results for the poor through inclusive development and ensuring appropriate accountability.  Mexico will see a push for increased public-private partnerships (PPPs) and will launch a new ‘roadmap’ for partnerships with the private sector – could this influence how aid is delivered and development cooperation conducted in the post-2015 world?

The Global Partnership could either provide or miss its opportunity to offer a concrete way forward for the ‘how’ of post 2015: Whilst thebetter aid Global Partnership has been dubbed by some as the ‘how’ of the post-2015 agenda, it is proving difficult to discuss the GPEDC at the UN and integrate it formally into post-2015 documents.

Will delegates make clear and substantive links to post-2015 in order to influence and implement the post-2015 goals? If Busan was about bringing stakeholders to the table, then Mexico is about getting results.  This means action to make progress on people-driven development.  The big question is what will be Mexico’s legacy? Will the Mexico meeting build on what was achieved in Busan with the necessary ambition and capacity to monitor development cooperation efforts in an attempt to hold all actors to account and improve development cooperation for the people they serve? So far, as delegates gather, I sense a lack of optimism around the table.

Follow the discussions on twitter: #GPHLM, @njmcivor

April 14, 2014
Duncan Green