Monday, December 18, 2006

Communication dialogue and good governance

It is time that the international community faces the theme of communication for development which is a key aspect of our modern life which has been neglected for far too long. Namely because communication is the border between success and failure.

An excellent project which is badly communicated is a failure. An excellent project not communicated is nothing. No one knows about it and, most importantly, no one knows the policy and no one knows why you are engaged in this challenge and what your aim may be. In other words, Communication is first and foremost about dialogue, democratic dialogue between donors and recipients in order to build a joint policy for a better world, sharing principles, values and objectives. We need to create consensus, by making people aware of what we are doing and why and by identifying what is expected by the public and what is expected of policy makers.

This dialogue means that we have to be serious in implementing the principle of ownership. Ownership means respecting the choices and the strategies of the countries themselves and not imposing hundreds of conditions on a State to decide from the outside what is best for a country. It means also that we have to take into consideration the essential monitoring role of democratically elected citizens' representatives. So, we need to encourage an increased involvement of national assemblies, parliaments, local authorities.

We must also support a broad participation of all stakeholders in the development of a country: civil society, including economic and social partners such as trade unions, employers' organisation, the private sector, NGO's, the media. They all play a vital role as promoters of democracy, social justice and human rights. In other words, communication is the way to implement and strengthen democracy itself.

Communication is about instruments

It must go far beyond the project cycle. We must more and more focus on budget support. The concept is simple: instead of contributing to a specific, self-standing project targeting a specific objective, we should support the overall budget of a partner country on the basis of an overall development plan.

This approach offers many advantages. It encourages greater ownership, reduces transaction costs, facilitates a more effective use of aid, through the use of government procedures, contributes to long-term capacity building and sustainability.

Finally, the use of budget support will also indirectly contribute to a more mature policy dialogue leading partner countries to take their responsibilities in terms of objectives, means and governance mechanisms. This is the reason why the Commission will make of budget support its standard implementation method.

Communication is about governance

Communication cannot exist in a vacuum. It can only exist when there is good governance.

Development, poverty reduction, stability and security all depend on States being able to perform the essential public functions of providing access to health, education and justice, protecting and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms, and managing economic and natural resources in a transparent and responsible fashion. The substantial increase in ODA expected in the coming years, in particular at the level of the EU which has agreed to double its aid between 2004 and 2010 will only lead to results if significant progress is made towards democratic governance.

Governance is basically a political issue, related to the core state functions, and its capacities to serve its citizens. All governance issues, including the analysis of situations and trends, as well as priorities and commitments to reform, should be brought to a frank, open and transparent political dialogue between all the stakeholders in a country. Sensitive aspects such as the respect, protection and promotion of human rights, the democratic principles, the rule of law, as well as corruption issues have to be approached in a constructive way.

Country context and specific circumstances should be properly integrated to assess the situation, the trends and the priorities for reform.

Many countries still need to meet the very basic conditions of stability and a minimum institutional framework to have a chance to start reducing poverty and implementing a longer term development agenda. Encouraging partner countries to resolutely engage in the path of reforms means that dialogue and incentives are preferred to conditionality and sanctions.

When political will exists, which is increasingly the case, it is crucial that donors support politically and financially the reforms undertaken by partner countries. This is why the Commission decided to set aside EURO 2.7 billion from the resources of the 10 EDF to provide additional support to African, Caribbean and Pacific countries which decide to commit themselves to governance reform action plans that are relevant, ambitious and credible. If this is not communication implemented at its highest level, it is difficult to know what communication could be.

Communication is making sure that the tax payers in the developed world understand and support the necessity of development assistance, and why it is important to increase it. The question is how will we raise awareness among citizens and what kind of message should we deliver. In recent years, the message was based on MDG’s and poverty eradication. And this was right. Compassion and solidarity constitute fundamental values of our own society, in particular in Europe.

But today, development is fundamentally political, and the best long term, structural response to the challenge of globalisation. And my feeling is that today, we must convince our citizens that development is the appropriate response to migration, security, protection of natural resources of the planet and international stability. This is the message we must communicate.

Article by Bernard Petit, Deputy Director General DG DEV, published in the December 2006 issue of the eCourier - the online newsletter of ACP-EU development cooperation.

See the Euforic dossier on governance.