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European NGOs warn implementation of the Busan partnership agreement has been limited and uneven
The EU has shown little sense of urgency in implementing the development effectiveness agenda agreed at Busan, South Korea, a year ago, a group of European NGOs has concluded.
In a report on EU aid since Busan, AidWatch said implementation of the Busan partnership agreement has been limited and uneven, reflecting in part the "reform and implementation" fatigue of EU governments.
Rich and poor countries in Busan agreed a global partnership for effective development co-operation as a way of bringing in countries such as China, Brazil and Mexico, which give as well as receive aid. Busan aimed to build on conferences in Paris and Accra that set out principles on aid effectiveness. These included the use of recipient country systems to deliver aid as the preferred option, untying aid and mutual accountability.
AidWatch said it was told by European officials that they were still waiting for the mechanisms agreed at Busan to be set up. The main features are ministerial meetings every 18 months, a 15-member steering committee and a joint UN-OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) secretariat, rather than one provided by the OECD.
A monitoring framework consisting of 12 indicators measuring progress against commitments on gender, transparency and other areas is being finalised. Delays in setting up the framework have slowed the entire implementation, said AidWatch.
"All in all, 2012 was a lost year for aid and development effectiveness reform in Europe," it said. "Reforms took place mainly at the level of policy, with the European commission trying, in its 'agenda for change', to promote a new approach that puts a strong emphasis on using aid to promote economic growth."
On transparency – one of the big positives from Busan – AidWatch said progress – albeit modest and uneven – is being made. Using 43 indicators such as the quality of a donor's freedom of information act, AidWatch said the UK's Department for International Development is the only member in the "good" category, scoring 91.2%, followed by the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, which were "fair".
But audits of country programmes, project impact appraisals, project designs, memorandums of understanding and evaluations are much less readily available than information such as strategy, annual reports and overall project costs.
AidWatch said many aid agencies are starting to recognise the benefits of real transparency, rather than simply meeting the obligation to open their books to public scrutiny, but, with some significant exceptions, this has yet to move from intention to systematic implementation. The European commission, the UK and the US have backed the international aid transparency initiative, an open data standard designed to meet the information needs of donors and recipient country governments. But, said AidWatch, the EU as a whole has lacked ambition in transparency.
One of Busan's main priorities was to try to reduce aid fragmentation, where recipients have to deal with multiple donors. General budget support – money transferred directly to a government – is widely recognised as the best way of delivering aid in the long term. Many EU donors, however, have scaled back budget support as it is hard for donors to demonstrate quick results. General budget support is also problematical when the donor disagrees with policies of the recipient government such as Rwanda, which has been criticised for supporting the M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The EU has tried to minimise the burden on developing countries having to deal with different donors through joint programming. On Haiti, for example, EU donors sat round the table to decide on a division of labour to avoid duplication. Although joint programming sounds laudable, AidWatch warns there are risks for recipients if the EU "gangs up".
"Such joint approaches give the EU leverage to impose conditionalities more effectively, thereby undermining their partners' national sovereignty," said AidWatch, which questions whether joint programming will lead to better and faster implementation as it requires signing off by many different head offices. There would also be the problem of synchronising different donors' programming cycles as well as with the recipient. The EU is piloting joint programming in Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Laos, Mali and Rwanda for 2014-20.
Andris Piebalgs, the EU's development commissioner, said: "Even if some of its [the report's] findings may be challenged, it provides us with an opportunity to discuss this issue [aid effectiveness] in more detail and to make sure that we keep the media and development community's attention focused on it. It's clear that if we are to stand any chance of meeting the millennium development goals by 2015, then making sure that our aid is as effective, joined up and transparent as possible is vital."