World forum ponders ways to spend aid billions better

AFP, Sunday 27 Nov 2011

Policy-makers and experts from some 160 countries will meet in South Korea this week to consider whether hundreds of billions of dollars in annual development aid are being well spent

The Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, to be held in the southern city of Busan from Tuesday, will also look at how to persuade emerging giants like China and India to take a bigger role in global aid efforts.

"The stakes are huge: better lives for billions, hundreds of billions of development aid dollars, vital international relationships and growing demands to see results," organisers said on the conference website.

The three-day event will group 2,500 people from donor and recipient nations, international organisations and civic groups.

Participants include UN leader Ban Ki-Moon, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the conference co-host, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair will lead a panel discussion.

Donors and developing countries have been trying for about a decade to agree on an international framework to improve the quality of aid, but critics say they have so far failed.

"The Busan meeting is an opportunity to mend the tattered global aid effort, and will have important consequences to the world's poorest people," international aid organisation Oxfam said in a statement.

A key issue will be encouraging more emerging nations and private groups to join a combined effort to improve aid transparency, organisers say.

"The big issue now is how to encourage BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) to take part, since they haven't joined coordinated efforts among major donors," one Seoul official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

None of the four fast-developing nations have yet joined the OECD's Development Assistance Committee.

Previous talks by donors in Paris in 2005 set standards for foreign aid, but they only covered OECD economies and not emerging donors such as China, whose aid is often linked to business priorities.

China has hugely ramped up aid and investment in the developing world but so far has sought to go its own way.
Many traditional donors -- Britain being a notable exception -- have meanwhile started to cut back on aid amid the economic crisis.

Rita Perakis, of Washington-based research group the Center for Global Development, voiced hope that the Busan talks would find ways to include emerging donors, particularly in sharing information about their aid.

"The challenge in Busan will be to involve them and find a way to make it attractive to them to be part of the global effort, so that we can have standards," she said.

Perakis said the Busan talks should also look at better ways to measure the effectiveness of aid rather than just financial figures.

Andrew Rogerson, a researcher for London-based think-tank the Overseas Development Institute, called for more efforts to reflect the voice of emerging donor nations.

"A key success element... would therefore be that China believes it has a real opportunity to shape any new principles and approaches to implementing them, not that it is being asked to underwrite ones which were developed by others in a different context," Rogerson told AFP.

Among other principles, delegates at the 2005 Paris talks agreed that recipient nations should set their own development strategies instead of following donors' directions.
Aid-givers should offer help in line with goals set by the recipients.

"Recipients promised to do a better job managing aid, and donors in turn would trust recipients more," Oxfam said of the Paris agreement.

"Partner countries have honoured their commitments and it's time donors did the same."

Oxfam said some donors had even suggested withholding aid until recipients demonstrate "results" based on donors' needs rather than their own needs and priorities.

"This weakens progress in fighting poverty and threatens to undo years of progress on aid effectiveness," it said.

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