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The Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation struggles to find relevance

Added 08 May 2014
The first High Level Ministerial (HLM) of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) ended on 16 April in Mexico City with mixed messages and a glut of new voluntary initiatives. 

This was the first global meeting of the GPEDC, which was launched in late 2011 at the 4th High Level Forum (HLF) in Busan, Korea, to replace the aid effectiveness process and shift to the broader concept of development effectiveness. 

The aid effectiveness process was established to increase the efficiency and impact of official development assistance (ODA) based on mutually agreed indicators for success. These indicators were restructured after Busan and the purpose of the HLM was to assess the progress towards achieving the commitments that were made. 

The meeting brought together 1,500 participants from 130 countries and included representatives from civil society and the private sector. Noticeably absent were delegations from India and China, who did not attend the meeting due to concerns about the GPEDC’s approach to South-South Cooperation and initial language indicating binding linkages to UN processes. The aid effectiveness process had been hosted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC), a forum and coordination mechanism for rich countries. The GPEDC is co-coordinated by the OECD-DAC and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Despite this shift away from the OECD, many countries still view the GPEDC as a donor-driven process that is not as inclusive as it claims to be. As a result, many non-OECD countries would prefer that discussions on development should be housed entirely within the UN.

Civil society’s expectations 

The HLM was preceded by a civil society organisation (CSO) forum organised by the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE), a global network of CSO groups and trade unions that sit on the steering committee of the GPEDC. Eurodad played an active role at the forum due to its role in the CPDE reference group on the private sector, and as a member of the official European CSO delegation coordinated by Concord-Aidwatch. 
Eurodad’s priorities for the HLM were to push progress on commitments related to untying aid and using partner country systems.
During the forum, citizens’ groups reiterated their demands for the GPEDC to:
  1. Finalise the implementation of Paris, Accra and Busan principles and apply them to all actors. 
  2. As the role of the private sector is strongly promoted in the meeting, development actors should ensure that ODA to or through the private sector follows and reinforces the agreed effectiveness principles, rather than undermining them.
  3. Accelerate and deepen Busan commitments.
  4. Strengthen the enabling environment for CSOs as independent development actors.
  5. Promote equitable and just development cooperation architecture leading to the creation of decent work, gender equality, respect for human rights and overall strong, shared and sustainable growth.
 The High Level Ministerial

The HLM itself was packed with five plenary sessions arranged on thematic grounds and 36 focus sessions (side events) on the agenda. The meeting served as a talking shop for a variety of development actors to present their issues and there was little time for meaningful discussion. Most of the discussions were at a broad headline level but a highpoint was a rousing intervention by Alecia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). 

During the plenary on middle-income countries, she pointed out the inconsistencies in rich countries’ trade and development policies and the need to link the two. She also noted that foreign direct investment does not go to countries with the greatest need for external finance and unequivocally stated no to conditionality, no to poverty and no to inequality. 

Other issues that featured highly throughout the HLM were domestic resource mobilisation and the role of the private sector in development cooperation. Eurodad organised a side event entitled “delivering effective development through public-private cooperation” along with Oxfam, ActionAid, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and CPDE. The purpose of this event was to have an honest discussion about the various expectations different stakeholders have of the private sector in development cooperation.

Progress since Busan

There was a clear disconnect between the positive rhetoric during the plenary discussions and the lack of tangible progress since the HLF in Busan. The monitoring report co-coordinated by UNDP and the OECD demonstrated little in the way of achievements in the last few years and had little to celebrate except the fact that there was no regression since 2010. 

The scope of the report was also not comprehensive as it captured only 46 per cent of aid programmed for developing countries in 46 countries. Of the ten monitoring indicators, several are still in the pilot phase with no clear results. Of those where progress could be assessed, achievements were quite small. Untied aid increased from 77 per cent to 79 per cent (target by 2015 is 100 per cent of aid untied) and 84 per cent of aid disbursements were on schedule compared to 79 per cent in 2010 (target by 2015 is 90 per cent of disbursements on schedule). 

There was no progress on the use of country systems, which remained at 49 per cent. This is a critical area for achieving development effectiveness (target by 2015 is 57 per cent of aid through country systems). Despite the lack of progress in meeting the commitments, there was little time for reflection as the report was published shortly before the HLM. The sentiment seemed to be not to dwell on the past and to look to the future.

Private sector

An area of contention for many CSO groups was the primacy given to the role of the private sector during the HLM. This unease along with a growing concern of shrinking space for civil society culminated in a group action before the final plenary that addressed the issue. The private sector was mostly represented by large multinational firms and the private arm of multilateral development banks, with little participation by enterprises from partner countries. The World Bank’s International Financial Corporation (IFC) and the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) served as cheerleaders for providing public guarantees to private investors in order to reduce their risk. Little was made of the risk their investments can have on poor communities and the lack of accountability in mitigating them.  

In a background paper, the CPDE outlined concerns related to the participation of the private sector in development cooperation, which were addressed to varying degrees during the discussions but not sufficiently. There was an emphasis by donors and private sector representatives on the need to establish an enabling environment for business and private investment, which was not clearly elaborated upon. 

The wide variety of actors encompassed in the blanket term of ‘the private sector’ makes it critical to identify partners that can support the achievement of development objectives. This concern was echoed by partner countries that wanted to ensure that this narrative would not justify supporting donor firms in accessing their markets with questionable benefits for poor and marginalised communities. 

The fact that the proposed indicator for the private sector in the monitoring framework focuses on its ability to influence policy reforms rather than the development character of those reforms adds to these concerns. During the plenary discussion, one of the private sector participants made it clear that businesses do not come to developing countries to do development and that profits are the foremost priority. For many of the CSO groups this demonstrated the responsibility of governments and citizens to ensure that businesses contribute to development and follow public policy. While there was a call for the private sector to adopt a principle-based approach to their activities, it was also made clear that ultimate responsibility for development and complying with development effectiveness lies with governments.

Outcome

The drafting of the communiqué that serves as an outcome document for the HLM proved difficult as the intention was to have it finished before the meeting itself. Due to a lack of agreement by the steering committee on the communiqué’s content, the negotiation continued during the HLM. While there were several problematic issues, the private sector again played a contentious role as several constituencies of the GPEDC wanted to see language on private sector accountability in the document. This was opposed by some members of the steering committee. However, due to the lack of transparency in the drafting process, it is not clear where the opposition came from. In the end, language on private sector accountability was included.

Rather than focusing on the monitoring indicators, the communiqué is arranged along the thematic lines of the plenary discussions. While this allows for some positive language and general headline messages on topical issues, it does not create a path towards achieving the goal of the GPEDC in becoming part of the ‘how’ of the implementation of the post-2015 agenda. For the most part, the document encourages continued progress in areas where there is little demonstrable progress and charges the steering committee with promoting the relevance of the GPEDC in any fora it can.

The communiqué is supplemented with 38 voluntary initiatives that are open for business for those willing to join. For those who remember the post-Busan building blocks supported by coalitions of the willing, the relevance and sustainability of these initiatives is questionable. Many of them duplicate efforts and it is unclear what role they would serve within the GPEDC other than to showcase achievements or solicit membership at the next HLM in two years’ time.   

Final thoughts

The GPEDC HLM in Mexico served as a forum for interesting presentations and initiatives but accomplished little in the way of stocktaking or holding its constituents to account for implementing commitments related to development effectiveness. 1,500 people were flown in to network, dine and discuss what was going on in their own constituencies. While the Mexican government should be lauded for their competence and hospitality as hosts, the lack of a clear action plan undermined the meeting’s relevance. As a stock taking exercise, it would have been prudent for members of the GPEDC to look at the monitoring report and determine how best to achieve the goals and targets set out in Busan, rather than focusing on the topics du jour in development cooperation that are being discussed in a multitude of other fora. 

Overall, the HLM felt more like a trade conference or industry talk shop than a partnership that is working on the ‘how’ of development. The lack of participation by two of the most populous countries in the world raises doubt about how global the partnership actually is, and the half-hearted engagement by other major emerging donors speaks to its declining relevance. 

For the GPEDC to become an important player in the international development arena, it needs to urgently find political momentum to push it beyond being a forum for people to have interesting discussions. The accountability role of the partnership needs to be taken seriously in order to challenge its constituents to meet the targets they set for themselves. Maintaining the status quo cannot be seen as a substitute for progress. The GPEDC has much to offer in terms of capacity and experience, but it needs to get back on track to its core business of monitoring progress in achieving development effectiveness. 

Several participating European CSOs, including Eurodad, reacted in a video message. Click here to watch it.