Sunday, October 05, 2008

Accra marks a turning point for aid, but in which direction?

Source: EU News, nr. 6, September 2008

Northern and Southern governments meeting in Accra, Ghana on 2-4 September further defined how they intend to improve the effectiveness of aid by 2010. The true depth of reforms to come will reveal whether aid will finally be used as an instrument for justice, or whether more of the same failed aid, simply polished around the edges, will signal the beginning of the end of the international aid system.

The novelties of the Accra Agenda for Action (AAA) can be counted on one hand. At least 50% of aid to governments should be managed through the country’s public finance system, as direct budget support or sectoral programmes; and aid for public sector activities which does not use country systems must be justified. Developing countries should receive three- to five-year forecasts of aid resources available to them. Monitoring of progress should begin at country level on the rationalization of donors’ roles and allocations across sectors. And donors will publish individual plans on untying of aid, though with no specific commitment to address the pressing issues of untying food aid or technical assistance.

The rest of the AAA is a rewritten, improved version of the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. It offers much positive language on long-overdue changes needed. However, it is no guarantee that the political will to take action on these words is any stronger than it was before Accra, when official reports on the implementation of the Paris Declaration concluded an alarming lack of progress. Will wording on “mutually-agreed conditions” and “results-based conditionality” will be enough to drastically alter the pace of change? Will the specific mention of various steps in the budgetary process requiring transparency be enough to ensure that Parliaments and civil society can play their respective roles of scrutiny and of monitoring, presenting evidence and offering critical analysis?

The negotiations in Accra were dominated by the dynamics of a unified and generally progressive European Union position, an initial disagreement followed by limited but still significant changes in the positions of United States and Japan. African voices were conspicuous by their absence, as were any other united positions by developing countries. Brazil and other emerging donors did play a role in the AAA’s acknowledgement of the particular characteristics of South-South cooperation.

The Paris Declaration was born within the OECD donors’ club, with a limited group of developing countries associated for the occasion. The Accra meeting demonstrated that the process has generated momentum, with a broader participation by developing countries. The format also recognized that a wider group of development actors, governments of emerging economies, private foundations, and civil society must be included in review of aid reform. Civil society had a welcome space to engage with decision makers, present their analysis on official aid, and share their ongoing reflection on civil society’s own development effectiveness. The constructive dialogue between CONCORD and the European Commission on the EU’s position for Accra beginning early this year was particularly appreciated.

However, an aid system with the incremental changes proposed in Accra, to be managed by an unwieldy “DAC-plus” structure, looks destined to rapidly become obsolete. Civil society has been calling for aid reform review to take place in a forum where all countries are on equal footing, such as the United Nations Development Cooperation Forum. This kind of structural question could not be resolved in Accra, but can be addressed in the upcoming UN Financing for Development conference in Doha.

See the full article: “A Turning Point for Aid, Yet Which Direction?”, World Economy & Development in brief, Sept/Oct (

CIDSE, Caritas, and ACT Development went to Accra as part of an ecumenical delegation of Southern and Northern Catholic and Protestant Churches (SECAM, AACC) and faith-based organizations. Press release “Churches demand urgent action to back up rhetoric” (FR) Joint Ecumenical Message for the Accra High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness

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