Opening Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Vienna High-Level Symposium “Accountable and Transparent Development Cooperation: Towards a more Inclusive Framework”
Vienna, 12 November 2009

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to begin by thanking the Government of Austria for hosting this meeting in Vienna and for generously supporting the Development Cooperation Forum since its inception.

I am delighted to join Minister Michael Spindelegger in welcoming all of you to this High-level Symposium. You have come from developing and developed countries, from various ministries, parliaments, and a wide range of civil society organizations and multilateral institutions. Your presence testifies to the importance of succeeding in our efforts to create a more inclusive framework for development cooperation.

The global financial and economic crisis has compounded the major challenges in energy, food security and climate change. A slowdown of progress toward the Millennium Development Goals is expected.

The multiple crises demand accelerated delivery of international commitments on development cooperation. In fact, the crises call for not only meeting but exceeding the Gleneagles commitments, to help poor countries meet increased needs. This should be achievable. The additional money needed to meet the Gleneagles targets on aid represents just a fraction of the support provided to rescue financial institutions in rich countries, and a tiny proportion of their fiscal stimulus packages.

Against this backdrop, the Development Cooperation Forum takes on a special significance. The United Nations 2005 World Summit created the DCF to review trends and promote coherence in development cooperation. Given the breadth of its mandate and its universality, the DCF is uniquely placed to assess whether development partners are meeting their respective commitments, and whether development cooperation is advancing the internationally agreed development goals. The Forum can debate ways of making development cooperation more effective.

This is why the theme of our symposium is an issue of the highest priority for the DCF. Building a more inclusive framework for accountable and transparent development cooperation should serve to increase the quality and impact – and thus the effectiveness – of development cooperation. And promoting the voice of developing countries, parliamentarians, local governments and other non- government stakeholders in the debate on international development cooperation has been a hallmark of the DCF from the outset.

The concept of mutual accountability offers a way for programme countries to hold donor countries to account on the commitments they have voluntarily undertaken in the area of development cooperation and of aid in particular.

At present, aid relationships are asymmetrical and in favour of the donor countries. Improving the balance in these relationships will promote more flexible and predictable aid modalities. It will reduce conditionalities, which tend to undermine national ownership and impede aid effectiveness. And it should work to increase the impact of aid on achieving the internationally agreed development goals.

This is why the Doha Declaration on Financing for Development encouraged all donors to improve mutual accountability and transparency. And this is also why mutual accountability is at the heart of the Accra Agenda for Action on aid effectiveness.

While the principles behind mutual accountability are straightforward, the mechanisms to translate it into practice – at country, regional and global levels – have not always worked well.

At the country level, some mutual accountability mechanisms, such as donor harmonization plans or joint assistance and aid strategies, have led to significant changes. But few of these mechanisms fully factor in the national priorities of programme countries. And few are strong enough to deliver frank and forceful analysis of the performance of donor countries.

The global level has seen a rapid proliferation of global aid assessment initiatives in recent years. Besides the initiatives in the UN through the General Assembly and ECOSOC, there are the OECD/DAC processes, as well as peer review mechanisms. Most of these mechanisms, however, have had a relatively low impact on how donor and recipient countries operate and interact with one another.

Fewer mechanisms exist at the regional level. They do not engage all stakeholders. And they only have a tenuous connection to global or national mechanisms, which limits their impact.

Overall, the voice of developing countries has not yet been heard sufficiently in mutual accountability mechanisms. And only a small number of mechanisms have involved consultations with parliaments and civil society.

At the same time, there is now a stronger commitment from both donor and programme countries to share information on aid agreements, policies and data. Making such information publicly available will greatly facilitate oversight of development cooperation by parliamentarians and civil society, as well as by countries in general, whether programme countries or donors.

A wealth of initiatives is underway to strengthen mutual accountability and aid transparency. Many of you are engaged in them. Developing a meaningful and coherent system of mutual accountability will require a more concerted and ambitious effort.

This symposium seeks to take a bird’s eye view of existing mechanisms and to launch a process to develop a more effective system of mutual accountability – one that responds to the needs of programme countries and reflects the views of the range of stakeholders in development cooperation.

The objectives for the symposium are ambitious. I look forward to an open and frank, discussion over the coming two days.

We have a very broad agenda for the DCF next June. Multiple crises call for multi- pronged solutions. This is the first in a series of symposia we are planning to illuminate the key parts of this agenda. All the stakeholders expect that from us.

Tomorrow afternoon, we will look ahead to two themes of the upcoming work of the DCF, on South-South and triangular development cooperation, and on policy coherence.

We are focussing here in Vienna on “mutual accountability”. Ultimately, trust and openness among development partners are key in making mutual accountability work. This symposium can go a long way in building this kind of relationship.

I wish all of you a fruitful debate.