Thursday, October 9, 2008

Calls for increased accountability in development aid

The Accra High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness concluded, on September 4th of this year, with the adoption of the Accra Agenda for Action. This document seeks to build on the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness of 2005, in which it was agreed, inter alia, that 1) developing countries should have "ownership" over their own developmental processes; and 2) that both donor and developing countries should be more accountable - to each other and to their constituent publics - for the results of development aid. The three key elements of the new Agenda for Action are as follows:

Country ownership is key. Developing country governments will take stronger leadership of their own development policies, and will engage with their parliaments and citizens in shaping those policies. Donors will support them by respecting countries’ priorities, investing in their human resources and institutions, making greater use of their systems to deliver aid, and increasing the predictability of aid flows.

Building more effective and inclusive partnerships. In recent years, more development actors—middle-income countries, global funds, the private sector, civil society organisations—have been increasing their contributions and bringing valuable experience to the table. This also creates management and co-ordination challenges. Together, all development actors will work in more inclusive partnerships so that all our efforts have greater impact on reducing poverty.

Achieving development results—and openly accounting for them—must be at the heart of all we do. More than ever, citizens and taxpayers of all countries expect to see the tangible results of development efforts. We will demonstrate that our actions translate into positive impacts on people’s lives. We will be accountable to each other and to our respective parliaments and governing bodies for these outcomes.

The Agenda for Action is interesting, form a GAL-perspective, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it stresses that developing countries must take control of their own development, and that donors must respect the developmental priorities of those to whom aid is given. This seems to operate against certain trends that some authors have noted, in which donor states and multilateral institutions - and notably the World Bank - seek, for fear of mismanagement of funds or corruption, to bypass the national level almost entirely, and focus on funding local initiatives with local accountability structures (see my recent post on UNESCO's international coalition of "Cities Against Racism" for another example of this trend).

Secondly, the issue of participation is addressed, with all developmental actors - including NGOs and other civil society actors involved in the field - invited into the fold. As the Global Governance Watch website suggests, however, this is not only an attempt to improve development aid by drawing on the expertise of civil society actors, but also to ensure that these actors - and in particular major aid-delivering or funding NGOs - are included within the group to whom mutual accountability is owed.

Lastly, the issue of accountability is addressed directly, and in a fairly naunced manner. As a number of commentators have noted, the problem in development aid, and in global governance more generally, is not simply a lack of accountability; often, there are plenty of strong accountability mechanisms, but these guarantee only that the interests of particular, powerful actors are represented. Tha Agenda for Action confronts this issue, recognising that "greater transparency and accountability for the use of development resources - domestic as well as external - are powerful drivers of progress", and that such accountability must be to both donor countries and domestic publics:

We will make aid more transparent. Developing countries will facilitate parliamentary oversight by implementing greater transparency in public financial management, including public disclosure of revenues, budgets, expenditures, procurement and audits. Donors will publicly disclose regular, detailed and timely information on volume, allocation and, when available, results of development expenditure to enable more accurate budget, accounting and audit by developing countries.

We will step up our efforts to ensure that—as agreed in the Paris Declaration—mutual assessment reviews are in place by 2010 in all countries that have endorsed the Declaration. These reviews will be based on country results reporting and information systems complemented with available donor data and credible independent evidence. They will draw on emerging good practice with stronger parliamentary scrutiny and citizen engagement. With them we will hold each other accountable for mutually agreed results in keeping with country development and aid policies.

To complement mutual assessment reviews at country level and drive better performance, developing countries and donors will jointly review and strengthen existing international accountability mechanisms, including peer review with participation of developing countries. We will review proposals for strengthening the mechanisms by end 2009.

Effective and efficient use of development financing requires both donors and partner countries to do their utmost to fight corruption. Donors and developing countries will respect the principles to which they have agreed, including those under the UN Convention against Corruption. Developing countries will address corruption by improving systems of investigation, legal redress, accountability and transparency in the use of public funds. Donors will take steps in their own countries to combat corruption by individuals or corporations and to track, freeze, and recover illegally acquired assets.

Of course, there is nothing massively new here, and certainly nothing legally binding. However, the points outlined above do present an interesting account of the way global administrative law concerns (participation, transparency, accountability) are being calibrated in the field of development aid governance; and, perhaps more importantly, that something we might call an "administrative law sensibility" - in which the importance of these mechanisms within global governance is beginning to form part of a global common sense on this issue - is genuinely starting to emerge.

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