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The Commission for Africa and Policy Coherence for Development: First do no harm

House of Commons, International Development Committee

First Report of Session 2004–05

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As the 2015 deadline for meeting the Millennium Development Goals approaches, much of Africa is being left behind. Launched by the Prime Minister in February 2004, the Commission for Africa is a bold initiative to create an agenda for action for the G8, to make 2005 a turning point for Africa. The Commission intends to report in March 2005.

The Commission’s report will primarily have recommendations for the G8 and the European Union, so as to complement rather than duplicate the work of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Union. The Commission must not shy away from addressing the complex issue of governance in developing countries, but this focus on the G8 makes sense. Just as governments in developing countries must put their own house in order, so too must governments in the developed world.

The world does not come neatly packaged into issue areas, ripe for policy intervention. Policies designed to address one issue are bound to have impacts on other issues too. If it is to play an effective role in building a global partnership for development, then the developed world must do more to ensure that its policies on a range of issues are coherent and do not undermine its objectives and policies on international development.

Policies which lack coherence and undermine development are all too easy to find. Aid is undermined by protectionist and trade-distorting agricultural subsidies. The poaching of doctors and nurses from countries which can not afford to lose them hampers progress on health and HIV/AIDS. Tariff escalation hampers developing countries’ industrial development. Fishing subsidies damage fisheries projects supported by aid. A reluctance to put in place strong anti-corruption laws and to tighten up against money laundering in the developed world, encourages and facilitates corruption in developing countries. A legislative net which fails to catch arms dealers, leads to the proliferation of small arms and fuels conflict. Such policy incoherence is wasteful, and in many cases totally unnecessary. The developed world must ensure that it does not take away with one hand what it gives with the other.

Governments committed to enhancing policy coherence for development need to make more progress in terms of the following five steps:
  • Recognising the importance of policy coherence in a world of interdependent challenges and issues;

  • Understanding better the nature and strength of relationships between issues;

  • Specifying the impacts of the developed world’s policies on developing countries;

  • Assessing the scope for enhancing policy coherence;

  • And, modifying objectives and policies so that there is more coherence.
The UK Government recognises the importance of policy coherence and has a variety of mechanisms in place which are designed to enhance coherence. These include: Public Service Agreements where targets are shared between Departments; inter-departmental working groups on development and on specific issues such as conflict prevention and remittances; and, guidelines and codes of conduct, for instance on the recruitment of health service professionals from developing countries, and on arms exports. The effectiveness of such mechanisms varies however. The UK’s direction of travel towards policy coherence for development is good, but the Government and Whitehall could move further and faster.

Much can be learned from the experience of other countries. Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have produced reports on their contribution towards MDG8, building a global partnership for development. These are an important first step towards more systematic and independent analysis of policy coherence. The Netherlands has a unit charged with ensuring policy coherence. Sweden has an integrated global development policy which demands coherence and requires systematic reporting to parliament. Many other mechanisms to enhance policy coherence for development have been reviewed in research by the OECD.

The Policy Coherence for Development agenda is not a magic bullet which will transform the priorities of the developed world. But, by increasing understanding of policy overlaps, and by enhancing transparency and accountability, the policy coherence for development agenda can play an important role in enabling and pushing governments to ensure that their policies are truly supportive of the needs of developing countries.

Africans say, with justification, that they are not looking to the G8 and EU to adopt new policies or make many new commitments, but they do want to see existing donor country commitments implemented—just as donors want to see NEPAD commitments implemented by African governments. The G8 has never sought to create a permanent secretariat. They are right to reject bureaucracy. But if the goals of the UK chairmanship of the G8 are for G8 member states to achieve better policy coherence for development (both individually and collectively) and to implement existing development commitments, it will be necessary to create a mechanism for monitoring compliance by G8 states with the decisions taken at the G8’s July 2005 Summit. This could be achieved by retaining a panel of Heads of Government Special Representatives on Africa, or asking the OECD Development Assistance Committee to publish an annual report on the implementation of the G8’s commitments to Africa, and to discuss this at each year’s G8 summit.

The Commission for Africa can do much to shame and encourage the G8 into keeping its promises, taking policy coherence more seriously, and changing the policies which undermine Africa’s ability to prosper in the global economy. With UK leadership of the EU and the G8, the year 2005 can be a turning point. The opportunity must not be missed.

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