Posted by Brian Pratt on 12 December 2011
The Busan Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (29 November-1 December 2011) is being heralded as a major meeting of senior people (politicians, aid administrators and civil society) to review the future of aid. I am finding it difficult to see how this is the case. It is an extension of previous meetings which led to the Paris Declaration and later the Accra follow-up. These meetings primarily sought ways to improve the efficiency of aid management, in itself a worthy enough cause. The process looked to improved coordination (harmonisation), local ownership of aid, and so on. Implicit in the original concept of the Paris Declaration was the definition of civil society as primarily a service delivery mechanism to be contracted to, and driven by, the state. This created a massive elephant trap for civil society, into which many have fallen.
So what is important about Busan? Supporters claim massive importance and some donors and NGOs invested heavily in preparing for these meetings. However I find it hard to understand why we should get excited about a meeting where the basic statement was prepared in advance, when of the 12 indicators for donors to measure their progress since the Paris Declaration and Accra only one has apparently been met, and where the world is changing so fast many of the old ideas of development, of who is or is not a donor, are already a part of our history.
Why would anyone bother going to a meeting where the conclusions were written before they got there, and when many donors, even if they claim to be committed to the process, are already walking in another direction (by new ways of hiding tied aid, new forms of conditionality, increasingly making aid decisions in terms of their own national interests)? A place where new donors claim none of this is relevant to them as they are still developing countries, so don't need to heed the same rules as proposed by the Paris Declaration, OECD, and others on aid transparency, human rights etc?
The temptation of being at high table is too much for many NGOs, who seem oblivious to the dangers of engaging in debates of dubious relevance to most of the world. Where their costs have been met by official donors keen to get some level of legitimacy for an event they are barely taking seriously themselves; with little commitment by their political leaders to the eventual aims. I witnessed in Accra some the NGOs were as bad as their adversaries, to the extent that meetings I went to were grossly misreported. Lobbying positions were taken by NGOs despite a total lack of support at the meetings they claimed provided their legitimacy. People are claiming to represent civil society, but with minimal actual consultation.
Have such events become the equivalent of medieval courtiers being seen at court, with the NGOs being the poor cousins of the great lords, fawning and pretending to be part of the action; action which is itself highly choreographed because the real power and decisions lie elsewhere?