Commitments of the past, present and future.
For the international development community, 2015 is the year that will make the future, with several major events determining what should be achieved, how it should be achieved and how it will be financed. New goals and commitments are in the works and a wild assortment of ideas are on the table, but it is important to learn from the successes and failures of commitments made in the past.
Speaking of past commitments, 2015 is also a big year for the EU and its member states. In 1970 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution which stated “Each economically advanced country will progressively increase its official development assistance (ODA) to the developing countries and will exert its best efforts to reach a minimum net amount of 0.7% of its gross national product at market prices by the middle of the Decade.” 1975 came and went with some wealthy countries taking this commitment seriously but most unfortunately not. In 2005, the EU 15 agreed to collectively reach the 0.7% ODA target by 2015 as a demonstration of international solidarity with the poor of the world. It is now 2015 and the figures for last year’s ODA levels presented by the OECD DAC in the beginning of April show that it will have to more than double these levels to achieve this target. Only four EU member states are on track to meet the 2015 deadline: Denmark, Luxemburg, Sweden and the UK. In several member states ODA is declining and in the case of the Netherlands, one of the few countries that took the 1975 deadline seriously and maintained the 0.7% target for 35 years, the government decided to drop the ball just as the goal was in sight.
These are not the only commitments rich countries have made that are lagging in achievement. At a high level forum held in Korea in 2011 the international community formed the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) which was given the responsibility of ensuring accountability for implementing commitments that make ODA more effective. This partnership was armed with a monitoring framework that would measure progress in achieving a sundry of commitments related to ownership, transparency, accountability and results. In the first half of 2014 the GPEDC published its first progress report which painted a troubling picture. Of the commitments due to be achieved by 2015 the report rather optimistically states “overall, the glass is half full.” While it is important to maintain a rosy disposition, much of what is considered progress could easily be confused with stagnancy. For the most part progress has been sluggish or inconclusive and for those commitments without a clear deadline, lack of regression is seen as a sign of success.
At a recent UN meeting discussing the forthcoming conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Addis Ababa, one of those aforementioned major events, a representative from a Least Developed Country (LDC) stated that we should not go to Addis to reconfirm commitments made 45 years ago. This is a crucial point but it should be cause for concern that we are discussing 45 year old commitments at all. At a recent symposium organized by the United Nations Development Cooperation Forum (UNDCF), a forum where issues of accountability in development cooperation are discussed, it was noted that the main accountability mechanism for the new agenda would be in the form of a progress report published every four years. The immediate question that came to mind was “what does this mean? If it’s a complete disaster we fire the report writers?” In the formation of a new and ambitious development agenda the international community should learn from the past and ensure that any agreements reached and commitments made are binding with clear lines of accountability from the poor and marginalised to the most senior decision makers and agenda setters (for real this time). This would certainly make the work of watchdog organisations such as Eurodad significantly easier.