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Big questions, little progress in run up to global aid forum

In just over a month, governments, development agencies and civil society organisations from around the world meet to look at how we can make development aid more effective. The Fourth High Level Forum – or HLF4 – starts on 29 November in Busan in South Korea.

The run up to the forum has involved tough negotiations to agree the final agenda and agreements. Two weeks ago in Paris, bilateral, multilateral and partner country representatives, as well as civil society battled it out across an OECD round table.

They were combing through yet another draft of the Busan Outcome Document to try to reach some kind of consensus before the likes of Hillary Clinton and UK Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell fly into Busan. 

Big questions, little progress

Fundamental issues being debated at the previous preparatory meeting in July were still on the table:

  • Will agreements on how the aid system should work be reaffirmed (see the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action)? Or are we moving to a completely new agenda?
  • Can one agreement cover both Northern and Southern forms of development cooperation?

Disconcertingly by the end of the discussions few of these issues had been resolved.

Equally worrying, hard-fought gains (like a clear commitment to aid transparency) were again hanging in the balance.

Nevertheless, in some corridors of power, a few issues are moving forward , thanks largely to the efforts of some small interest groups or ‘posses’

For example the G7+ (a partnership of 17 fragile states), under the leadership of East Timor, is spearheading an impressive proposal on aid in conflict affected and fragile states.

Another group (Nordic countries plus the UK, USA and EU) is pushing for a strong focus on results, monitored at the country level.

While more rigour in aid monitoring and evaluation is welcome, the recent Paris Monitoring Survey has shown that it is at the country level where the only results are being achieved.

Donors are letting the side down, as Owen Barder argues persuasively in his blog.  It’s vital that any results agenda has a global monitoring component as well.

What’s needed NOW

Parallel negotiations need to take place over the next few weeks to secure consensus on the following issues:

  • What are the differences between South-South cooperation and North-South cooperation? What principles can and cannot be applied to both forms of assistance? Without a detailed discussion on this issue China is unlikely to sign on to any form of agreement.
  • Will country-level results frameworks strengthen developing countries’ monitoring and evaluation mechanisms? Or will they be a reversion to donor-dictated frameworks?  
  • Advocates for aid transparency – like the UK and Ireland – need to lobby other donors like Portugal and Japan on this issue, and push for a firm commitment to the International Aid Transparency Initiative to come back into the Busan outcome document.
  • In spite of Paris and Accra commitments on predictability and untying of aid, action has been slow and those commitments are unlikely to be strongly reaffirmed. To help reach the Millenium Development Goals, better practice in these areas needs to happen NOW.

Eyes on the prize

Final negotiations should aim to shore up support for a reaffirmation of Paris and Accra, and should also focus on:

  • Country ownership – Partner country governments should continue to lead on articulating their development priorities, with support from providers of cooperation. Partner countries should engage withcivil society organisations, parliamentarians and other stakeholders. In addition there should be a commitment to democratic ownership, whereby partner countries engage with civil society organisations, parliamentarians and other stakeholders to ensure that all perspectives are reflected.
  • Highlighting best practice from sectors, particularly health, which provides many useful lessons on how to strengthen accountability and improve donor coordination. See, for example, the International Health Partnership+.  
  • Endorsing the G7+’s ‘New Deal’ for international engagement in CAFS and bringing it to life with a clear framework of activities to bring about tangible development outcomes for people affected by fragility and conflict.

Read our policy brief on effective aid prepared for the Busan High Level Forum

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