Behind the facade: Looking deeper into Busan

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      Major meetings in Busan (2011) and Mexico (2014) re-iterated the key principles for effective development: ownership, a focus on results, inclusive partnerships and transparency and mutual accountability. Translating this ‘jargon’ into a more accessible language means nothing more than, in an ideal world, all stakeholders in developing countries should lead in achieving development with the support of their development partners.

      Though on paper the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC), seems to be making progress, more could be done to ensure effective implementation. Geert Laporte, who moderated a follow-up seminar in South Korea on 6-7 November, invites us to look behind the facade of the formal implementation of the GPEDC.

      Participants from all over the world shared many telling examples and stories of progress within the implementation of the Busan principles: 

      • There is more transparency, public access to information and availability of data/statistics on aid flows;
      • Several development countries have set up government-CSO’s dialogue and public-private dialogue structures aimed to ensure the participation of all stakeholders in national development plans;
      • Donors express an increasing commitment to use the country systems of developing countries;
      • Arrangements for mutual accountability have been put in place in several countries;
      • Country results frameworks and mechanisms to monitor progress are in place in an increasing number of countries.

      However, in spite of these formal arrangements there is a risk that the implementation of the GPEDC becomes a technical exercise to which all donors and developing countries need to comply if they want to be taken seriously.

      Paradoxes and reverse trends

      Major paradoxes seem to exist in many countries between the formal and the real world.

      While there are more consultative mechanisms established for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs)-government dialogue, the space for effective participation of CSOs seems to be shrinking in many African and Asian countries, as reported by CSO representatives.

      There also seems to be more country ownership, alignment and increased efforts from donors to build capacities of domestic systems of accountability (e.g. auditing systems, procurement systems…). But at the end of the day many of these do not appear to trust the country systems, and sometimes a reverse trend seems to be at work in spite of widely agreed and supported principles.

      Country ownership is heralded as a key principle (e.g. in programming) but donors sometimes decide unilaterally to overrule locally driven processes and decisions.

      Beyond ‘ticking boxes’ on what formal arrangements have been put in place in each and every country, we should make more efforts to look at the effective operational functioning of these arrangements.  This requires a more political focus: how can political commitments be reinvigorated? How to create the right incentives? How to overcome resistance on both sides?

      How to deal with a less perfect world?

      As clearly said by an African CSO representative: “Improving country systems for effective country dialogue is not a technical discussion. There is a lot of political economy that comes into the game.”

      For the next stages in the process of implementation of agreed commitments, it would be good to invest in contextual political economy analysis of developing countries and donors alike. This could help to look at the quality of the dialogue between government and civil society, and the quality of the country systems, including accountability systems.

      By doing so we would probably discover a different ‘less perfect’ world behind the facade in many countries. We might discover that those countries that seemingly are the best performers on paper in implementing agreed principles are probably weak performers if we dig a bit deeper into the way these systems work in practice.

      In parallel it would also be essential to make a more in-depth political economy analysis of the donor side. Why are donors so risk averse? Why is the use of country systems which they have supported with lots of funding and capacity building in decline in many countries? What explains this lack of trust? How to deal with weak and unreliable country systems?

      Not interference, but influencing

      For the future we should develop more sophisticated ways of real partnerships between developing countries and the ‘donor’ community. In the spirit of Busan donors have a role to play beyond harsh conditionalities that have proven to be ineffective. But if country systems do not work, if the CSO-government dialogue is not happening or if it is just a fake exercise, donors should not just remain silent and be passive providers of taxpayers money.

      Busan has put country ownership and multi-stakeholder participation as a central objective. There might be a role for donors as brokers and mediators in ensuring that CSO’s and NSA’s have their legitimate place at the decision-making table and in the implementation process of agreed country policies.

      Let there be no doubt: this is not about interference, but about influencing in a subtle way local country processes that were agreed in Busan.

      Similarly, if developing countries are unilaterally ‘overruled’ by donors without due respect for relatively well performing country systems, there should be a procedure that allows developing countries to react and remind the donor of agreed principles and commitments.

      In conclusion there is a need for more political realism. In other words: don’t only look at whether formal structures in line with the Global Partnership have been established but whether these are operating in a meaningful and qualitative way.

      Geert Laporte moderated the 2014 Busan Global Partnership Workshop on 6-7 November.

      The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM.


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