A new Chair at the OECD DAC - the stakes have never been higher
The new Chair of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) is Denmark’s Carsten Staur – an experienced former Minister for International Development Co-operation – who will start his role in March 2023. In a world of overlapping crises, the stakes are too high to fail.
The new Chair of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) is Denmark’s Carsten Staur – an experienced former Minister for International Development Co-operation.
Mr Staur is the current permanent representative to the OECD and has years of experience in multilateral spaces such as the United Nations (UN), and familiarity with negotiation processes in both the UN and the OECD. His appointment was announced on December 6 following a tightly contested race.
And that is about all we know, as the process for the new DAC Chair was yet again carried out with no public information about the criteria for the role, or public access to the proposals submitted by any of the candidates on their ambitions. Nor has there been engagement with external stakeholders, such as representatives from countries in the global south or civil society organisations.
The opacity of this (and previous) election processes, with donors sitting both in the examiner and examinee roles, highlights once again the need to review the governance of the DAC, notably in terms of the transparency and accountability of its decision-making.
A challenging context: what should be the priorities of the DAC?
The OECD DAC is the forum where donor countries set international principles, rules and standards for development cooperation, with the Chair defining the agenda and building consensus on different areas, including difficult topics such as what counts (and what does not count) as official development assistance (ODA). This includes rules on migration-related activities, private sector instruments or excess Covid-19 vaccine donations. The DAC’s decisions, therefore, have an impact on the quality and quantity of ODA that reaches countries in the global south. And it has a vital role in tracking to what extent rich countries are meeting the 52-year-old commitment to deliver 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income (GNI) as ODA.
The context in which Mr. Staur takes up this new role is challenging. Multiple and interconnected crises are taking poverty to unprecedented levels; inequalities within and between countries are increasing; and climate-related disasters continue to spread across the global south. The relevance and importance of ODA, or aid, is greater than ever. Aid is unique in addressing the needs of those most affected by poverty and inequalities. It is also one of the largest sources of external financing for Least Developing Countries (LDCs) and a vital resource for supporting key public sectors that promote the reduction of poverty and address inequalities. Yet, donors continue to fail to meet their international commitment: according to Oxfam’s calculations, the failure of rich countries to mobilise 0.7 per cent of their GNI for aid has cost countries in the global south a total of US$ 5.7 trillion, a substantial debt owed to the world’s poorest people.
Mr. Staur has a set of essential priorities to tackle:
First, in recent years we have been observing a slow erosion of the rules governing what counts as aid - for example with the agreement on the reporting of debt relief as ODA (2020) or the agreement on reporting in-excess Covid-19 vaccine donations as ODA (2022). This should be redressed. The erosion of the rules are slowly translating into decreasing aid levels reaching the countries in the global south directly. In addition, the temporary agreement on the reporting of private sector instruments (PSI) as ODA (2018) left a lot of loose ends regarding transparency around these operations. And accountability is lacking - notably on the possibility to track the extent to which these operations contribute to the achievement of the sustainable development goals and are ODA eligible. They also represent a risk of greater levels of tied aid.
Second, a step forward in the ambition of the “DAC Global Relations Strategy'', is the systematic involvement of countries in the global south into the discussions, deliberations and decisions of the DAC. They are the best placed to ensure that aid delivers what they consider to be relevant support for development cooperation. The DAC needs to profoundly review its governance and give countries in the global south a direct say, and improved transparency, in its decision-making. Such a move is crucial to shifting the power dynamics behind the donor-recipient relationship and overcoming the colonial legacy with which ODA is often associated.
Last, but not least, members of the DAC agreed a Framework for Dialogue between the DAC and Civil Society Organisations (2018). We expect Mr. Staur to continue with its implementation - notably on transparency and access to information, in line with current practices in Denmark. Within the last four years, progress has been made with regular annual meetings with CSOs and ad hoc consultations on specific issues. However, more needs to be done in terms of raising the political profile and impact of these exchanges and generalising access to information and working documents. This could only enrich the exchange between both parties, and support the democratic accountability of decisions that currently are held behind closed doors.
In a world of overlapping crises the stakes are too high to fail. We encourage Mr. Staur – who will start his role in March 2023 - to play a leadership role to drive a much-needed shift in the mindset of rich countries on aid, from charity to justice. He must also support a path for countries in the global south to benefit from aid flows that finance sustainable development on their own terms.