December 3, 2011

Gauging the temperature of the new Global Partnership: Take Two

It was a relief to finally walk along the beach this morning, and feel the sand give way beneath my feet – something real after eight consecutive days of heady discussions and negotiations with government officials and among ourselves. 

Looking back on the city from a vantage point on the rocks, you could see storm clouds in the distance retreating behind Busan’s rolling hills and its metallic-coloured skyscrapers, tall fingers of glass trying to poke a hole in the sky. In the distance, out on the edge of the sea, soft misty clouds blur the horizon. 

A day earlier, Angel Gurria, the Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Brian Atwood, the Chair of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, and Talaat Abdel-Malek, the Chair of the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness (WP-EFF), were all patting themselves on the back for a “job well done”. 

The Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation is indeed in many ways a landmark accomplishment. It has extended the tent to a broader range of development actors – including emerging economies, the private sector, and civil society – and framed an agenda for aid and development effectiveness going forward. Furthermore, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa genuinely seem committed to the full partnership, having committed themselves to it before China rejoined the negotiations, but downgraded its own status within the framework and the principles of “South-South cooperation” to a purely “voluntary” arrangement. 

This is unfortunate as it means a slow boat for China to real aid and development effectiveness. But then it was always the prerogative of the OECD and many of the donors to get China in the tent, and at any price. They paid it, it would seem. 

On the flip side, if China even shows a little more commitment to Busan than the traditional donors have shown to Paris and Accra, they will already be ahead of the game. 

Busan also established an important set of principles for all development actors that are “consistent with our agreed international commitments on human rights, decent work, gender equality, environmental sustainability and disability,” and move beyond Paris in important ways. Ownership has a more democratic orientation, refocusing on countries instead of just states – and sets out a more inclusive role for all development actors, including parliaments, local governments and CSOs in shaping development policy. And while the Busan Partnership may still focus on “results”, again its orientation is longer term, looking at outcomes that have “a lasting impact on eradicating poverty and reducing inequality.” Transparency and accountability also goes beyond an inter donor-government relationship, to accountability to intended beneficiaries and respective citizens. 

In terms of specifics, the use of country systems is now the default option, the International Aid Transparency Initiative got a big boost of support, and gender equality and women’s empowerment made some important advances. Most importantly for civil society, the Istanbul Principles and the International Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness, and the rights-based approaches of civil society to development, found international recognition – even from US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, during the official opening. The enabling environment now has some link to “agreed international rights”, although how this new language will curb the current sway towards a disabling environment in many country contexts is unclear. Finally by extending the life of the WP-EFF until June, CSOs have an opportunity to shape the future aid architecture, and the all important indicators and monitoring framework for Busan. 

A number of other issues – like tied aid and aid predictability – stayed the course. 

 Where Busan fell short was on acknowledging the lack of implementation of Paris and Accra and the all essential follow-up to Busan, the vision for the private sector, fragile states and the gender action plan. As noted elsewhere on this blog, one of the key elements of the Paris Declaration was the inclusion of a set of indicators and a monitoring framework for tracking progress on implementation. This has illustrated how donors have largely failed to realize their commitments to Paris. And this has caused some scepticism about their ability to live up to Busan’s commitments, underscoring the importance of defining indicators and a monitoring framework for the Partnership, a decision deferred until June 2012. 

 Similarly, CSOs feel that donors need to focus on this “unfinished business” before they turn their attention to “big business”. A year after Seoul’s Development Consensus for Shared Growth, Busan not surprisingly places economic growth and the private sector at the heart of development, instead of the other way around. And while the “New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States” has won broad support among more than 40 governments, fragile states are essentially getting a “raw deal”, with peace-building a wholly state-centric, rather than people-centred, process. Without a clear indicators and a monitoring framework, implementation will be a challenge. 

But beyond the specific text, civil society has its own accomplishments of which to be proud. 

At the opening of the Busan Global Civil Society Forum, Tony Tujan, the Chair of BetterAid and the CSO Sherpa at the negotiations, acknowledged that we of course want something from the Partnership that fulfils our demands. But beyond that, “whatever comes out of Busan, we want it to recognize our role as independent development actors that belong in an inclusive global partnership for development.” 

For the past three years, we have been fighting to have a seat at the table and keep that seat. We have not been given much space, but in that space, and throughout the fierce negotiations, our critical but constructive statements, and our thoughtful interventions, we have gone one step further. We will still have to fight for that seat, but now at least many more governments hopefully recognize why we deserve a seat at the table. 

“CSOs are a vibrant and essential feature in the democratic life of countries across the globe playing a vital role in advancing development effectiveness in order to achieve human rights, gender equality, social justice, decent work, environmental sustainability, peace and an end to corruption and impunity within a solid framework of democratic governance, rights-based approaches, and inclusive policy engagement,” said Emele Duituturaga, Co-Chair of the Open Forum on CSO Development Effectiveness, in her speech at the closing plenary. 

“We have truly valued our inclusion as equals at the HLF4 negotiating table and expect this practice to be replicated at national levels.” 

It is a goal worth shooting for. 

My thoughts come back to the beach in Busan, and somebody tells me it is snowing back in Ottawa. I hope the ground hasn’t frozen over yet. 

This blog post was written by Fraser Reilly-King, Canadian Council for International Co-operation.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of CCIC or its members.

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