The Reality of Aid: Key Messages on The Paris Declaration
Achieving Global Justice and Poverty Eradication through Reforming Aid Architecture
The Paris Declaration, with the agreement of 22 donors and 57 partner country governments, marks a significant set of donor commitments to improve the effectiveness of aid for the stated purposes of accelerating the achievement of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals and reducing poverty and inequality. Civil society organizations (CSOs) have welcomed the Declaration’s intention to put donor and partner country words into action through specific reforms to which they will be accountable.
The Declaration clearly acknowledges the primary importance of “country ownership”, with effective developing country leadership over their development policies. Developing country partners agree to develop effective national development strategies to which donors will respond. To achieve these overarching goals, the Declaration sets some specific objectives, with measurable indicators, including greater alignment with country strategies, improved harmonization of donor procedures, and a commitment to mutual accountability for development results.
These reforms have long been called for by CSOs. Nevertheless, the Declaration fails to go far enough in tackling some deep-seated obstacles that have stood in the way of aid as an effective resource that addresses the acute conditions facing poor and marginalized people. Further reform is urgently needed.
Donor/government policy dialogue on national development plans, so central to the Paris Declaration, should be guided and informed by international human rights standards.
The Paris Declaration’s commitment to “country ownership” relies on donor alignment with partner governments’ national development strategies. This alignment is usually the result of highly unequal and donor-directed policy dialogue, focusing on implementing World Bank/IMF-mandated Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs). While improving in some countries, PRSPs have been proven to be artificial and weak expressions of democratic country ownership that is premised on democratic engagement of citizens. Real “country ownership” is the result of strong participation of organizations representing citizens, and particularly women and marginalized groups, who are most affected by poverty, as well as effective parliamentary scrutiny, and is not a limited dialogue between donor officials and government officials. Efforts for poverty reduction must include the space for organized efforts of poor people and organizations to claim and promote their rights.
Both donors and country partner governments have largely endorsed international human rights standards elaborated in various United Nations Covenants. These oblige both donor and recipient governments to maximize their efforts to progressively realize citizens’ civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, taking into account key principles of participation, non-discrimination and special attention to vulnerable groups. Alignment to this framework requires processes of donor engagement and government practice that prioritize accountability to citizens over accountability only to donor interests and priorities. Such a framework would link reform in the operational aid practices of donors and governments, the subject of the Paris Declaration, to the creation of national development plans. These plans, unlike current PRSPs, should be comprehensive and specific to country situations, elaborated with full transparency and with the full participation of citizens and parliamentarians. Respect and support for accountable domestic institutions, for citizens’ organizations and mobilization, and for the dynamics of local politics, are necessary foundations for “country ownership”, so important for aid effectiveness and the Paris Declaration.
The effectiveness of the Paris Declaration reforms should be measured in terms of aid’s exclusive and intended purpose, the reduction of poverty and inequality.
The true measure of aid effectiveness is a sustained reduction of poverty and inequality in the poorest countries, where aid is a key resource. The Declaration assumes that its reforms in the delivery and management of aid will improve aid’s effectiveness in reaching poor people and mobilizing them to address their rights. Reform of current aid practices is vitally important. However, the Declaration establishes no commitment to clear targets or mutually accountable assessments
of whether these specific reforms will result in sustained progress in reducing poverty.
The commitments of partner governments arising from the Paris Declaration should be carried out with full transparency and engagement with citizens in each country.
National development plans and strategies should be considered “public goods”. Partner governments therefore have an obligation to create maximum opportunities for their citizens to fully participate in the development of appropriate country development plans for reducing poverty and inequality. Developing country leadership over policy directions must be accompanied by a commitment to full transparency in government engagement with its citizens as well as with donors and other international development actors. These policies, in their accountability to citizens and parliamentarians, must arise from the specific
domestic needs and concerns of poor and vulnerable citizens.
Mutual accountability in the context of highly unequal power between donors and aiddependent developing countries requires a commitment to fundamental reform of International Financial Institutions. Donors must also expressly reform their aid institutions in ways that enable mutual accountability.
The World Bank plays a leading role in setting the terms of “development partnerships”. The harmonization of donor practices, called for in The Paris Declaration, accentuates the power of multilateral institutions, in which developing
countries, and particularly the poorest, have little say on IMF/World Bank priorities and their development policy blueprints for developing countries. Mutual accountability requires transparent participation of citizens in assessing the success or failures of reform to produce poverty reduction results. Without greater democratic participation of developing countries in the IMF and the World Bank, and without a reduction of these institutions’ current influence on the policy choices available to developing country governments, donor “harmonization” of policy prescriptions in their engagement with recipient governments only accentuates the absence of democratic accountability of these governments to their citizens. Without significant reform of the World Bank and the IMF, donors will fail to take into account the critical importance of local knowledge and of locallydetermined appropriate policies that may contradict current “wisdom” in these institutions.
Furthermore, the commitment to mutual accountability will only be rhetorical without democratic reform of bilateral donor aid institutions and practices. Mutual accountability requires real change in current donor practices. Donors must fulfill their commitments to improve aid effectiveness, including the complete untying of their aid programs, greater predictability of aid
flows, reform of technical assistance, full transparency in aid program priorities and strategies, and the delivery of sufficient financial resources to make the necessary progress in eradicating poverty. Mutual accountability also requires changes in donor
behaviour that respects and promotes equitable partnerships, including addressing the often informal influences over developing country partners resulting from donors’ financing power.
Donors must address the failure of The Paris Declaration to set goals to eliminate donorimposed policy conditions and benchmarks, which are the most important barriers to ownership because they undermine the space for locally-determined policy options for development and poverty reduction in the poorest countries.
While there is a strong consensus among all development actors that imposed conditions are both ineffective and unjust
to the rights of citizens in poor countries, the Declaration fails to address this critical issue. Governments can never be truly accountable to their citizens, and their parliaments, when policy prescriptions continue to be imposed, by donors, as conditions for both debt cancellation and aid. Both donor policy dialogue with government and harmonization of aid practices in program-based approaches have tended to accentuate the impact of donor conditions with numerous additional “benchmarks” that must be achieved for the release of aid monies Within highly unequal aid relationships, the governments of the poorest countries are very vulnerable to such conditions. They face an international environment that permits few options to stray from development policy “consensus”, which is largely a donor consensus. While fulfilling obligations to fiduciary responsibility and accountability mechanisms for aid expenditures, donors must eliminate donor-imposed economic and political conditionality and benchmarks in their aid programming. As noted above, policy dialogue and choices should be based on shared human rights
obligations to progressive realize citizens’ human rights.
In establishing aid effectiveness policies that support roles for civil society in democratic development for poverty reduction, donors must take into account the principles and operational needs of CSOs to enable their effective response to priorities set by beneficiary populations.
Civil society organizations create bridges between local civil actions and national/global civil society aspirations
that are responsive to the realities where poor and marginalized people live. While CSOs do not replace the responsibilities of government to their citizens, CSOs, as expressions of active citizenship, should not be considered subsidiary to government
national development plans. The goals for civil society are closely aligned with the principles of democratic culture which requires respect and encouragement of pluralities of views, policy and development alternatives. CSOs have been making
effective contributions to national and local development efforts, often in partnerships with donors and governments. However, donor, government and CSO approaches to effective development cooperation may sometimes be in tension. In fostering democratic culture in the poorest countries, as a foundation for poverty-focused development, local and international CSO
development actors would be seriously constrained if they were compelled to harmonize their development priorities with PRSPs which they had little say in shaping.
Monitoring existing Paris Declaration commitments must include a sustained process of engagement at national and international level with full transparency and with the participation of all stakeholders in development, including CSOs at country level.
The OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) has been coordinating, through its Working Party on Aid Effectiveness, the monitoring of objectives and indicators arising from the Declaration. The DAC is also expanding its engagement with civil society actors in its various forums. However, this commitment to engagement should be a regular component of DAC processes. In this regard, the DAC should ensure that there is sustained engagement and spaces for dialogue with CSOs on all issues related to aid effectiveness (not only those included in the Declaration) in the lead-up to the third High Level Forum in Ghana in 2008, which is to review the Declaration.
With regard to the transparent monitoring of the Declaration itself, partner country CSOs should be included in all aspects of this monitoring. In doing so, donors and partner governments should pay equal attention to both process and indicators,
with space for both partner governments and CSOs to raise issues beyond current Declaration commitments that clearly affect aid effectiveness. It is also important to note that the current review assesses indicators for partner government performance through instruments located solely within the World Bank, while donor performance is assessed by both donors and recipients, based on
donor provided data. Assessment of “country ownership” should be strongly rooted within partner countries involving the participation of all stakeholders and country development actors.