Monday, January 03, 2011

Deadline for the Paris aid commitments has passed

With the New Year a deadline has passed in making international aid more effective. The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness set some improvements on making aid better for development by the end of 2010.

Now that the deadline has passed, how did all of the governments do? The Guardian's Jonathan Gleennie answered the question with this post at the Guardian's Poverty Matters blog.

The short answer is not very well. The results from the 2010 survey are not yet in, so we don't know what progress has been made in the last couple of years, but apart from one or two significant steps forward, it seems progress has been weak. Of the 14 indicators of progress, the OECD, which is managing the process, thinks three are on track (relating to untying aid, better coordination between donors of technical assistance and better public financial management), a further three are within reach (on aid predictability, reducing the creation by donors of parallel project implementation units and recording aid in recipient country budgets), with the remaining eight requiring "very special efforts", which is the politically correct way of saying "we're miles off".

So it would be fairly easy to scoff at the Paris process as a wasted effort. Apart from the slow progress, it has come in for some fairly damning criticism over its methodology, with the targets being only mildly related to real development progress – ownership, conditionality and dependency cannot be measured by asking the World Bank to give countries scores on how good their development strategies are, for example. The Paris agenda does not really measure aid effectiveness, but aid efficiency, ie it looks at bureaucratic processes, but not the actual impact aid has on reducing poverty. After five years of evidence gathering, nothing in the Paris process will tell us if any more lives have actually been saved on account of changes in aid giving.

Another important criticism is that, as the middle-income countries become ever more important in aid giving (from China and India to Brazil and South Africa), the Paris process fails to involve them, giving the public in donor and recipient countries only a very partial view of the reality of aid. It's all very well accounting for OECD aid to Nicaragua, but what about the millions of dollars transferred by Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez, reportedly to a private presidential account?

But despite all this, there are good reasons not to give up on Paris just yet. Firstly, while I and others have argued that the most important issues are sidelined in the Paris agenda, some important principles are articulated, and this is the first time concerted effort has been made to implement them. You have to walk before you can run. A focus on transparency, in particular, is a substantial step forward, as Owen Barder wrote on the Poverty matters blog recently.

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