More responsibility for the recipients

Article, 03.08.2012

Interview about the effectiveness of development cooperation

Brian Atwood, director of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) development committee DAC, talks about how the effectiveness of development cooperation can be improved by establishing clear criteria for monitoring and by more effective coordination among donor countries.

What are the priority goals for development cooperation in the coming years?

The Millennium Development Goals remain important. These goals will still be relevant after 2015 because only 50% of the problems have to be solved by that date.

Other topics and goals will also come into the equation. For example, the call for a form of economic growth that takes the needs of everyone into account. Environmental concerns and goals relating to sustainability and climate change are also clearly priorities. We will probably have to deal with these questions on two levels. On the first, we will have to define how we should deal with global public goods. On the second, we will need to develop new indicators or criteria for defining development.

Aid effectiveness has been a central topic ofdevelopment cooperation since 2005. Has it improved since then?

The Paris declaration listed 13 goals for the improvement of the effectiveness of development cooperation. So far only one of these has been achieved by DAC members: greater effectiveness thanks to improved cooperation among the donor countries. However, the balance looks less impressive when we consider cooperation with the recipient countries and their role and responsibility for the development programmes. The progress made in this area is inadequate and this is why development resources continue to be wasted on transaction costs.

It is crucial that we should also achieve the other 12 goals. I believe that the BusanConference has created the necessary conditions for this.

What new elementsdid the Busan Conference held in autumn 2011 bring to light?

The main achievement was that it strengthened partner countries and their responsibility. A major paradigm change took place. Since Busan,the absence of suitable structures has ceased to be a valid justification for the direct implementation of development funds by the donor countries. On the contrary, where such institutions are not present, this is regarded as a deficiency on the part of the donor countries. This completely new procedure was necessary because up to now, we have been very conservative, understandably so, because we did not wish to put our taxpayers money at risk. But in order to achieve results, we need to be ready to take risks.

How can we ensure that such decisions are more effective in future?

International agreements only work if their implementation is monitored. A monitoring system that takes account both of the requirements and of the objectives is necessary. The DAC has defined this as one of its tasks. We wrotethe report on the implementation of the Paris Declaration and in the framework of the global partnership for the effectiveness of development cooperation. In light ofBusan, we willlook very carefully at how these decisions are being implemented. Agreement was reached on half a dozen indicators that will be checked at international levels. But more importantly, from now on, the recipient countries will be setting the goals themselves. We will also be looking at the implementation of these goals. Thanks to this control system, the pressure can be maintained, so that the maximum effect can be achieved.

What does it mean to say that the recipient countries themselves decide what development factors are important for them?

That was their principal demand. But they want to maintain the control system. They were very impressed by the manner in which we checked the implementation of the Paris Declaration. Now they want to see more surveys of this kind, partly because they want to put pressure on us.

The emerging countries - the South-South donors as they call themselves - do not want any controls by northern donors. They wish to establish their own relationship with the southern partners. This is a key aspect. We can considerably control at the level of individual states by supporting them in establishing their own development sections. This means that they can control activities within the country themselves and can insist that the funds flowing into development are budgeted andare transparent.

For some years now, DAC has been calling on its own members to focus more strongly both in thematic and geographical terms. Why is this?

Because this means that the effect is greater in all the areas and regions where we are working. However it is often easier to make this recommendation than to implement it. There are all kinds of restricting factors. In certain regions we need to react, for example in the Middle East, which is in turmoil. Or in Myanmar, where the opening has created new possibilities.

But above all, what we need to do to improve effectiveness, is to ensure an improvement of coordination among donors. Where does the EU work, where does the USA work? What subject areas are already covered? Can a donor country make an additional contribution without causing a fragmentation of the development programme in the recipient country? The EU is already trying to do this with its Joint Programming Effort. But even for the EU, coordination is difficult because the individual countries each have their own programmes. Joint programming is complicated and cannot work without a dialogue between the individual donor countries. The aim of this dialogue is for these countries to find out the areas on which they need to focus in order to achieve the most effective results.

Interview: Gabriela Neuhaus, May 2012