Post Busan Interim Group meetings are over. Progress remains patchy.

The meetings of the Post Busan Interim Group are over with yesterdays’ sessions . With less than five weeks to concluding meeting of the Working Party and the launch of the new Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation  (Paris, 28 . 29 June) certain important things are still to be fixed.

In ten days’ time, the final proposal on the list of indicators for global monitoring will be finalized and polished by the secretariat and the chair. By the week of June 10th, constituencies will have to designate their representatives on the Steering group of the GPEDC along with   their respective nominations for the chairs. The proposal for the Support function will have at least further refined by the OECD and UNDP (there is still many issues  about the level of support that it will provided both to partner countries and the non executive stakeholders).

Here are my highlights from the PBGI meeting of May 21 and 22 :

  • global monitoring has been downgraded: it is not so important and the new Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation is rather about accountability in the fashion of dialogue and knowledge sharing
  • the new donors are not committing for the time being. The art 2 of the Busan declaration is now complemented by a new provision that reads that the new providers of development cooperation are not expected to participate in the global monitoring system proposed in this initial arrangement
  • indicators will be kept under the number of ten. The rationale is to secure the minster’s attention by offering a few selected issues to focus on. This is a very pragmatic strategy, which may come with some side effects though: a diminished level of knowledge of development cooperation practices and less of peer pressure to improve around best practices
  • in this race to a handful of indicators, important issues may stay off the list. Fragmentation is one of the most noticeable victim. Despite reiterated  calls from partner countries, the chair stuck to the line that fragmentation can be better monitored at local level, possibly missing the point of the initiatives that are proliferating at global level, which is clearly mentioned in the Busan document
  • in general, the agreement reached at the PBIG meeting on indicators is mostly about the major headings and some definitions. On the real targets, uncertainty remains even relative to key areas such as  gender and transparency
  • the notion of enabling environment for CSOs and the private sector has been subject to extensive discussion. Mexico, for instance, seemed to been keen to reduce everything to the development cooperation arena; the chair of the meeting aligned himself with this interpretation , insisting that the discussion was about the role non executive actors in enhancing the effectiveness of development cooperation. Only the consolidated list of indicators will tell which option is holding up
  • the membership of the steering group has improved. Partner countries will have now 5 seats, provider of cooperation 3. But proposals from BetterAid to strengthen the representation of CSOs and non executive stakeholders have turned down with the assumption that the issue will be raised again at first meeting on the Steering grou
  • on Building Blocks there has been some positive movement as we have moved from zero references to a statement whereby the GPEDC that acknowledges the role of the BB and welcomes their input. Such a statement may potentially push BBs to be more accountable
  • an increased role of the UNDCF, which was one of the BetterAid demands, was consistently turned down, receiving no support from the chair of the meeting and the UNDP delegates

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Towards the new partnership for effective development cooperation. Are donors leading by example?

May 21, first day of the last meeting of the Post Busan Interim Group. Delegates looked into key issues covering the size and the membership of the Steering Group, the role of the co chairs and global monitoring system. It was a very learning session relative to at least four key issues:

a)     the chair of the meeting and the many delegates stated that monitoring is not so important; the new Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation is rather about accountability though in the fashion of dialogue and knowledge sharing

b)     the peculiar status of the new donors is confirmed. The art 2 of the Busan declaration is now complemented by a new provision that reads that the new providers of development cooperation are not expected to participate in the global monitoring system proposed in this initial Partnership arrangement

c)     ministers are not supposed to focus on more than a handful of indicators. For these reason, the number of global indicators will kept to the very minimum and certain key issues such as fragmentation and Programmed Based Approaches may well be ditched

d)     enabling environment for CSOs (and the private sector too) needs to be refined and circumscribed into the development cooperation agenda only

In my personal math b+c means that donors in general are not very much at ease with targets and monitoring. But if donors are not committing, why partner countries should?

On the bright side, there were some gains in terms of representation of stakeholders: partner countries will have now 5 seats, provider of cooperation 3. The second day of the PBIG meeting will definitely be another learning opportunity.

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The “differentiated commitments” approach at the centre of the post 2015 framework?

16th May. The UN Development Cooperation Forum just held a Symposium on “Shaping a Suitable future”, in Brisbane with the support of the government of Australia. One of the most compelling discussions was the debate on sustainable development goals. On this, the words from UN Under Secretary General  Sha can offer guidance, given his role as the Secretary General of Rio +20.

Firstly, the discussions underway revolve around a post 2015 framework not really on sustainable development goals (SDGs) as such. According to USG Sha, the new framework will a) be based on the recognition of the MDGs as a success story, b) integrate sustainable development, c) be built on MDGs and d) SDGs will speak to all partners.

There is a lot of uncertainty on what Rio +20 might deliver on this front. At this stage in the negotiation process, agreement has been reached only on 20 out of a 400 article draft; a new round of informal consultation is due in the next few weeks. There are different options on the table relative to the SDGs: some countries would like to have an agreement; others will support guidelines for their definitions. But the most likely outcome is that Rio will start a process that will take us to 2015. The UN created a few months ago a special task force on the post 2015, lead by Sha himself – in his capacity of the USG for the Economic and Social Affairs – and Helen Clark – UNDP Administrator ‑; the High Panel recently announced by Ban Khi Moon, which includes Cameron, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, will start working just after Rio it self.

It is interesting to note that MDGs are on average commented on in a positive manner. It may count that the most recent statistics talk about a success story in achieving certain goals, including the reduction of extreme income poverty. But, in general, it is acknowledged that having a framework plaid a fundamental role in mobilizing countries and communities and this catalytic function must not missed in the future and new framework will be very likely in place.

This new framework will integrate the sustainable development agenda and will apply to all countries. This may offer significant opportunities to create new alliances in the CSOs camp, for instance. The environmental and development sectors will have to work more closely in the future. Also, the social pillar and the experience of the trade unions will be part and parcel of this new dynamic. But this is welcome change is also coming with some substantive challenges.

I would mostly like refer to nature of the emerging framework. The flaws and limitations of the MDGs have been endlessly debated since 2000; this acknowledged, they still offer a rather coherent picture of what is needed as well as of what donors should do (MDG 8). We have now taken stock of the fact that we have entered a new era where more players are at work; an era where the emerging countries are reclaiming their fair share of say in the global governance and  they are eager to set their own rules. Busan offered a very good example of this dynamic: the “providers of South South cooperation” are asserting their peculiarities; the notion of the “common principles and differentiated commitments” sets the tone of the Busan declaration. If the “differentiated commitments” is the hallmark of a new era in development, as it really seems to be, it will not difficult to get a sense of the challenges ahead in forging  a new post 2015 framework that might offer strong and undisputable guidance. If different players are committing to doing different things, getting a final coherent result will be enormously difficult, whit amazing challenges in terms of effectiveness and efficiency .

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2011: the Italian aid puzzling year.

The year 2011 will not pass unnoticed: Italy started with one of worst ODA performances among the DAC donors and ended up with a Development Minister in place for the first time ever. The cabinet post was created in the wake of a government change of guard from Berlusconi to Monti: it was a largely unexpected move for several good reasons, last but not least  the national dire economic situation. The Minster’s remit comprises more agendas (family policies, migration and integration, youth, and drug abuse control); but the focus on development cooperation marks a turning point.

Italian ODA performance was puzzling for at least another reason too: ODA levels went up from 0,15% to 0,19%. How could it possible that Italian aid moved up when Berlusconi Ministers were so prone to cutting ODA down? The Ministry of Foreign Affairs allocations plunged from about 700 ml euros in 2008 to nearly 90 million euro in 2011. The trick is not hard to explain once you look at the right things: 30% of 2011 bilateral aid is refugee costs, which increased by a factor of 100 due to the Arabic springs crisis. Also, don’t forget that another 36% is debt relief. Italian ODA is now heading for 0,12% of GDP in 2012 without new investments. This negative trend will not change and Italian ODA may reach 0,16% in 2015 according to the European Commission in the absence of a U turn

Italian ODA may be at the beginning of a transition period. By the end of 2011, a Minister in charge of development cooperation was appointed against all odds. It is a Minister without portfolio, which means that human and financial resources are still in the hands of the usual players: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance. In a most recent directive issued by the Prime Minister Monti (April 2012), it is clarified that the Development Minister is in charge of “setting the guidelines, promoting and coordinating” the activities of the Ministries which carry out development cooperation programmes; the Minister will pursue the “unity, the coherence and the effectiveness” of Italian development cooperation in general. This is a most welcome step but tensions between the Development Minister and the other players are still possible at this stage.

It can be said that Italy is used to living just a few metres from a fatal precipice; the current economic crunch complemented with a credibility crisis of the political system is just the latest in a long series of critical situations. The Italian ODA system is no exception: Berlusconi’s government between 2008 and 2011 was about to deal a final blow to Italian aid by reducing resources severely and, in doing so, placing Italy in the lot of the worst performers. The main challenge is now to give new credibility to Italy as a development actor. The appointment of a Development Minister is an encouraging start which needs to be supported with fresh resources and a comprehensive aid system reform. In this regard, the most recent three-year financial perspectives document (april 2012) commits Italy to re-aligning with internationally agreed targets though in absence of a clearly indefinable timeline.

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