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Funding shortfall and donor backtracking on country ownership could prove fatal to hard-won Busan breakthrough
The global partnership on aid effectiveness, unveiled to great fanfare in Busan, South Korea, in 2011, was supposed to bring together all the pieces of the puzzle that make development work. It is the only forum for aid donors and recipients, emerging economies, civil society, the private sector and foundations to focus on the quality of development assistance.
But almost two years on, the global partnership is at risk of fading away because of a shortage of funding, reflecting a lack of high-level political interest. Busan built on previous aid effectiveness commitments made in Paris and Accra on the principles of aid ownership (by developing countries), inclusive development, transparency, results and accountability.
At the time, Busan was hailed as a breakthrough as it brought on board – after some behind-the-scenes arm-twisting – the new players in the aid landscape, particularly China, Brazil and India. These countries agreed, on a voluntary basis, to abide by the Busan principles.
The global partnership sounds very grand, but the legwork is being done by a secretariat consisting of officials from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The secretariat's job is to organise meetings of the steering committee, co-chaired by Justine Greening, the UK's international development secretary, Armida Alisjahbana, Indonesia's planning minister, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria's finance minister.
The big event is supposed to be a ministerial meeting early next year. However, voluntary contributions to the secretariat have been slow in coming and there is a shortfall of $4.5m (£2.9m) across the two organisations, with the shortfall particularly acute for UNDP.
Some of the most valuable work done under the global partnership is the development of a monitoring framework consisting of 10 indicators that measure progress in improving the effectiveness of development co-operation in specific areas: the transparency and predictability of aid; gender equality; participation of civil society; and the contribution of the private sector. At a time of shrinking aid budgets – the UK is a notable exception – quality of aid becomes paramount. The framework would seem to be an important tool for assessing quality.
The global partnership "holds all the partners to account with an annual monitoring exercise – the only 'performance assessment' for the aid industry," said Brenda Killen, head of global partnerships and policy at the OECD. "This latter point is essential for the developing countries. They can demand better behaviour from their partners because the Busan principles – and the Paris and Accra commitments on which they are based – are being watched."
Developing countries can use the global partnership forum to question why donors are backtracking from one of the key principles of aid effectiveness: ownership, which means developing countries calling the shots on development strategy. The most visible manifestation of ownership is budget support, where donors channel money through national government systems. But funds for budget support from the UK, a vocal champion of ownership, have declined. According to the UK Aid Network (Ukan) and NGO umbrella group Bond, global budget support has fallen steeply, from $4.4bn in 2010 to only $1.3bn last year.
The global partnership also ensures developing country needs are brought to the attention of G8 and G20 leaders, which set global policy but do not include the poorest countries. The G8 and G20 are currently discussing tax issues. The global partnership is the forum where the views and needs of the developing world can be transmitted to those bodies. Okonjo-Iweala has used the global partnership to press for more tax transparency to help Africa get its fair share of tax receipts from multinationals.
Yet, despite its potential value to poor countries, the global partnership suffers from its links to the OECD, still viewed by many in the G77 group of developing countries as a club for the rich. For those in the OECD, this misses the point that the global partnership is a practical coalition focused on learning and improving development practice. Considering its teething problems it is hard to say whether the global partnership's travails are embryonic or terminal.
"The partnership promised to change the complicated dynamics between donors and recipient countries, putting country ownership at the centre and ensuring the best use of aid in tough economic times," said Clare Coffey, policy adviser at ActionAid. "But there is very real concern that its blood sugars are too low and so it is not making headway, at least not in its core aid effectiveness work. To get the partnership back on track may require the role of the support function [OECD and UNDP] to be revisited, as well as strengthening participation of civil society."
For Donald Kaberuka, the president of the African Development Bank, the decline of the global partnership would be a waste. "Busan was a good compromise – it put each party's responsibility on the table and said development belongs to the developing country," he said.