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Setting the bar high for the G20 development agenda

21 September 2011
by Guest author

Today’s post is from  Brian Atwood, chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to address the G20 Working Group on Development and to thank its representatives for the contribution they have made to a new global consensus on development. The Government of Korea deserves much credit for insisting on development as a crucial component of any formula to ensure global economic stability, and for promoting the Seoul Development Consensus—an ambitious effort to place development high on the agenda of the world’s economic powers.

An important upcoming event on this agenda is the High Level Forum in Busan later this year. This will be the fourth in a series of forums convened to look at urgent issues of development flows and their value for money. Earlier forums set forth what are now widely recognized principles of aid effectiveness. The principles were based on an accumulating body of evidence that increased development resources were not necessarily translating into enhanced performance—and a keen awareness that improvement was needed.

While the same concerns are still with us today, the dynamic for the Busan forum is entirely different. While earlier forums were donor-driven, today, developing countries are setting the agenda and are active and essential parties to the process. And they have high expectations from their development partners. They want better cooperation, ownership of their own development agendas, and alignment of resources to their strategies. They are asking for more transparent and more predictable resource flows. And they are looking for measurable results. They want DAC donors to coordinate better with non-DAC providers of assistance, and they want to know how this will be done. Finally, from Busan, they expect an agreement that can be monitored, to make commitments tangible.

As Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and someone who has taken part in the OECD/DAC and followed it since the 1990s, I can testify that among the members of this group, the awareness that we cannot operate in a donor vacuum has grown enormously since the first forum on aid effectiveness. Perhaps the most dramatic reflection of this growth has been the evolution of the OECD/DAC-sponsored Working Party on Aid Effectiveness. Today, half of the members of this forum represent developing countries. Civil society is at the table, as are the multilateral organizations, the UN, the World Bank, the IMF and the regional banks.

Even so, we know that there is still much the DAC needs to do. We know, for example, that we must:

  • be more transparent in all that we do, creating the systems that will give our partners and our own citizens real-time information on our resources and programs;
  • be more predictable about our plans, revealing our forward-spending intentions so that partners can also plan;
  • find better ways to integrate global funds and national needs;
  • reduce the fragmentation that impedes rather than facilitates strategic development goals;
  • come to the assistance of fragile states, who often have less funding than their needs and performance warrant;
  • clarify the role of official development assistance (ODA) to ensure that it supports the emergence of “the developmental state” and leverages other, larger, flows of resources without being captured by special interests;
  • and open our doors and our minds to those who are proud to practice what is broadly called “South-South cooperation”, nations whose standing to assist others is based on their own success in poverty reduction and the affinity that is a natural by-product of a shared experience with poverty.

Busan will be a success if it provides the political impetus to ensure that not only DAC members, but all development players follow through on what we know will produce positive development results.

We are on the verge of a new era of development cooperation. Development cooperation programs can catalyze, help build capacity and fill revenue gaps, but they defer to the ownership of our partners and their own, accountable governments.

The OECD/DAC believes that the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness will continue to be an indispensible vehicle for this new era. We also understand the need to engage the United Nations even more fully. Our operational relationship with UNDP and the UN Development Cooperation Forum are already strong, and they will certainly become even deeper as we sharpen the focus on developing country strategies and results. The DAC also seeks to engage even more fully with other national providers of assistance, with civil society organizations and with the private sector.

We recognize that if Busan outcomes are to be institutionalized internationally they must be monitored objectively. The OECD/DAC’s Development Cooperation Directorate—an entity that has no operational role and no programs that need rationalizing—is well placed to provide this monitoring, as it has done in the past.

One of the important challenges of Busan is to create a post-Busan structure that will engage political leadership at a high level, along the lines of a global development forum bringing together DAC members, emerging economies, leaders from the developing countries, civil society and the private sector. As a ministerial-level body, such an entity could bring more policy coherence to development, recommend ways to leverage ODA to attract private sector investment, monitor compliance with agreements reached in Busan, and act as a political voice for development.

To me, the message is clear: there should be no political obstacles to a meaningful agreement in Busan. An ambitious agreement at Busan will go far in reaching the MDGs, as well as goals set more recently by the G20. It is fundamental to set the bar high. The global challenges that confront G20 leaders—financial, security, food, infrastructure, health, education—cannot be solved without development progress.

 Useful links

 OECD work on aid effectiveness including the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda

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