ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL HOLDS FIRST BIENNIAL DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION FORUM; KEYNOTE: ‘A NEW VISION FOR DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY’

30 June 2008
ECOSOC/6349

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL HOLDS FIRST BIENNIAL DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION FORUM; KEYNOTE: ‘A NEW VISION FOR DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY’

30 June 2008
Economic and Social Council
ECOSOC/6349
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Economic and Social Council

2008 Substantive Session

13th Meeting (PM)

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL HOLDS FIRST BIENNIAL DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION FORUM;

KEYNOTE:  ‘A NEW VISION FOR DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION IN THE 21st CENTURY’

Three Panels Address:  Allocating More Aid:  Where Should It Go?

South-South and Triangular Cooperation; Impact of Civil Society at Country Level

Against the backdrop of worrying trends that could impact the implementation of the global development agenda, the Economic and Social Council today launched its Development Cooperation Forum, established to consider mainstreaming international development goals, aid allocation, aid effectiveness and South-South and triangular development cooperation.

Inaugurating the first gathering of the Forum, which would subsequently meet biennially, Council President Léo Méorès of Haiti said the Forum’s creation had come at a time of dramatic change in development cooperation.  The architecture of development cooperation had become more complex and was being pulled in different directions with the emergence of new actors and approaches.

The General Assembly’s 2005 World Summit mandated the Council to convene a biennial high-level forum, which would, among other things, identify gaps and obstacles with a view to making recommendations on practical measures and policy options to enhance coherence and cooperation for the realization of the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.

This year, he said, the Forum could make a unique contribution to the question of aid and aid quality, as it would occur months before the Doha Conference on Financing for Development, and was well positioned to provide a broadly agreed input to the Accra High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.  The Development Cooperation Forum encouraged frank and thought-provoking debate on a “rich array” of development issues, and its summary document would serve as a collective input to the negotiations for the Accra process and the Doha Conference.  In that context, he urged bold and innovative recommendations that would have a resounding impact on the approach to development cooperation and on the situation of developing countries.

Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, Thomas Stelzer, who delivered a statement on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the Forum would have a special niche in both form -- through its inclusive participation and broad ownership -- and function.  The sharing of experiences of how development cooperation was carried out at the country level would highlight the challenges in that area.  By identifying obstacles for programme countries in realizing the full potential of development assistance, the Forum could serve to strengthen coherence.

In a keynote address on “a new vision for development cooperation in the twenty-first century”, Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, said that since the beginning of the century, through measures such as the Monterrey Consensus and the Paris Declaration, development cooperation commitments had been sketched out, at least on paper.  Unfortunately, the burgeoning number of international agreements had not led to steady action.

With that in mind, concerns about aid quality, predictability and effectiveness could no longer be glossed over, he said.  Indeed, the global assistance architecture had become nearly inscrutable “even to us donors”, as donors turned to ever more baroque methods of aid allocation, either out of fear of doing -- or appearing to do -- the wrong thing.  This commitment phobia was now “bordering on the ridiculous”, he added, noting among examples that the guidelines for providing assistance to post-conflict countries was particularly frustrating.

The Forum’s work today was built around three round-table discussions that focused on allocating more aid, South-South and triangular development cooperation, and civil society and new actors’ impact at the country level.

In the discussion on “allocating more aid:  where should it go?” Professor and Director at Oxford University, Paul Collier, said the objective of aid was simply to help ordinary people in poor and slow-developing countries get out of poverty.  The problem in aid allocation was that the amount of assistance was modelled on the modalities by which it was delivered, and donors did not need to coordinate among themselves.  Budget support was the mechanism for coordination.  The missing elements were an international, independent certification system, and a capacity-building process to bring countries to that required level of certification.  The real challenge was what to do when that sort of approach was simply not credible, when Governments lacked the necessary budget support.  There should be a move away from the “pretence” of budget support in those cases.  Where the need was great, so should be the aid allocated.

The Development Cooperation Forum will formally reconvene Tuesday, 1 July, at 10 a.m. to hear relevant keynote addresses and hold parallel round tables on identifying gaps and obstacles, and exchanging lessons learned.

Statements

Inaugurating the Forum’s first meeting, President of the Economic and Social Council LÉO MÉRORÈS said the Forum’s creation had come at a time of dramatic change in development cooperation.  The architecture of development cooperation had become more complex, and was being pulled in different directions with the emergence of new actors and approaches.  The Forum’s establishment was a significant step in steering development cooperation towards the realization of the global partnership for development.  That was essential, as progress had lagged in many areas.

This year, the Forum could make a unique contribution on aid and aid quality, especially as it would occur months before the Doha Conference on Financing for Development.  It was also well positioned to provide a broadly agreed input to the Accra High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.  The need for a fresh look at the issue of aid quality commitments, coordination and impact from a multi-stakeholder perspective had emerged in preparation for the Forum.  A global preparatory meeting had been held in March to discuss the expectations of Member States for the Forum, and beyond.

Finally, a stakeholder forum had been held earlier this month in Rome on the role of national and local stakeholders in contributing to aid quality and effectiveness, he said.  Participation today showed the Forum’s ability to engage a range of actors, including a global fund, the private sector and regional and international organizations.  Another special characteristic was the fact that it was a forum and, in that context, frank and thought-provoking debate on development issues was expected.  There would be opportunity to debate issues, including the allocation of aid, and South-South and triangular cooperation.

Indeed, discussions would cover a “rich array” of issues, and a summary would serve as the Forum’s input to the negotiations for the Accra process and the Doha Conference.  It was important to reflect on the Forum’s future, and prepare for the next meeting in 2010.  In closing, he urged bold and innovative recommendations that would have a resounding impact on the approach to development cooperation and on the situation of developing countries.

Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs THOMAS STELZER, delivering a statement on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the Forum had taken place in a year that the United Nations was involved in a broad range of actions to further the international development agenda.  In that context, it would have a special niche in both form ‑- through its inclusive participation and broad ownership -- and in function.  The sharing of experiences of how development cooperation worked at the country level would highlight the challenges in that area.

He said that at the launch of the Forum a year ago the Secretary-General had outlined the challenges to taking a decisive step forward in the global partnership on development, and expressed concern that aid allocations were not always in line with agreed criteria.  In the last year, the world had witnessed worrying trends that could impact the implementation of the global development agenda, spiralling food and energy prices, inflation and climate change among them.

Against that backdrop, the Forum could serve to strengthen the coherence of development cooperation by identifying obstacles for programme countries in realizing the full potential of development assistance, he said.  Without national ownership, there would be little progress towards sustainable development.  Financial and technical assistance would have a clear impact only if aligned with national priorities.  Programme countries needed policy space to formulate and pursue their priorities.  Many still had only limited capacities for negotiating, coordinating and managing aid.

Further, he said development assistance did not always go where it was most needed, noting that the allocation of aid across sectors and the drop in agricultural aid in recent decades were also cause for concern.  Aid continued to be burdened with conditionalities that undermined national autonomy.  Stronger mutual accountability was one route towards a more balanced relationship between donor and programme countries.  International development cooperation had indeed changed in recent years, and such changes demanded attention if development cooperation were to have a greater impact on internationally agreed development goals.  The Forum provided an opportunity to build broad agreement on how to proceed together.

Mr. Stelzer also introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the review of trends and progress in international development cooperation (document E/2008/69).

In a keynote address on “a new vision for development cooperation in the twenty-first century”, LOUIS MICHEL, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, said that when the Millennium Development Goals had been agreed, the means to achieve them had not been identified.  Since the beginning of the century, however, through measures such as the Monterrey Consensus and the Paris Declaration, among others, development cooperation commitments had been sketched out, at least on paper.  Unfortunately, the burgeoning number of international agreements had not led to steady action.  Indeed, while all nations seemed to agree that coherent, voluntary and sound financial policies reduced poverty, many countries were still struggling to alleviate poverty and hunger at the halfway mark to the Millennium Goals’ 2015 deadline.

“So the vision exists, but we are not doing enough to implement it -- and that goes for both developed and developing countries,” he said, calling on rich nations to live up to their commitments and on developing countries to adapt their internal policies.  He said that upcoming important meetings, including the Accra High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, the Millennium Development Goal high-level event to be held during the opening days of the sixty-third session of the General Assembly this September, and the Doha Review Conference on Financing for Development, should all provide an opportunity to move forward.

With that in mind, concerns about aid quality, predictability and effectiveness could no longer be glossed over, he continued, decrying current procedures which had led to what he called “technocratic and myopic downgrading of assistance”.  Indeed, the global assistance architecture had become nearly inscrutable “even to us donors”, as donors turned to ever more baroque methods of aid allocation, either out of fear of doing -- or appearing to do -- the wrong thing, or of committing to making real changes to the way decisions were made and carried out.  This commitment phobia was now “bordering on the ridiculous”, he added, noting among examples, that the guidelines for providing assistance to post-conflict countries was particularly frustrating.  Overall, official development assistance, which had stagnating in recent years, must be increased.

“We need to do better about dividing up the work and then working more quickly,” he said, acknowledging at the same time that “even with all their speeches”, donors were often quick to revert to self-centred behaviour, and developing countries often failed to dismantle confusing application and import procedures.  There is “co-responsibility”, he said, urging developing countries to step up and take the reins; if they had specific needs, they must do better about crafting the relevant strategies to best address them.  He went on to decry the proliferation of donor agencies and overlapping mechanisms, reiterating that the Accra Summit would be a test for everyone.

That meeting must be “very frank to avoid being laughable” in charting the way forward and it must address, among other things:  division of labour; targeted and sectoral assistance; results-based management and removal of conditions on aid; and ensuring predictability of aid.  Innovative measures should be considered on all those fronts, he added, calling specifically for quick-impact responses to accelerate achievement of the Millennium Goals.

For their part, European Union development ministers had recently adopted a framework for the Union’s development assistance through 2010 and 2015.  Among other things, the Union had pledged €4.3 billion to increase the access of 25 million children to school and provide training for some 6 million teachers.  Finally, he said that, while he was frustrated that technical, financial and human needs had never been in such high demand, he was hopeful that policies could be created and political will could be generated in the short term to motivate the international community to press ahead and craft better ways to cooperate on development assistance.  The Forum could provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to share ideas in that regard.

Interactive Discussion

In the brief discussion that followed, representatives of Member States generally agreed on the necessity of creating such a Forum.  At the same time, they emphasized the need to set the proper parameters.  One speaker said that Mr. Michel had “rung many familiar bells” and had raised issues that had long been concerns for many developing countries.  He said that the Forum must set clear objectives.  They should not be so broad as to lead to confusion of incomprehension, and not be so narrow as to replicate the work of other United Nations bodies.  The overall aim should be to ensure effectiveness of the delivery and the impact of development cooperation and international assistance.

Round Table A -- Identifying Gaps and Obstacles

The round table on “Identifying gaps and obstacles” was moderated by Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, Minister for Economy and Finance of the Niger, who launched the discussions by noting that current aid allocation practices were not sufficiently conducive to progress towards the attainment of national and global development goals.  Growing aid flows to the social sectors and governance had mirrored declines in allocations to infrastructure and production.  It featured panellists Sambou Wagué, Secretary-General in the Ministry of Economy and Finance of Mali; Paul Collier, Professor and Director at Oxford University; and Richard L. Greene, Deputy Director of Foreign Assistance in the United States Department of State.

Leading the presentations by panellists, Mr. WAGUÉ, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Economy and Finance of Mali, said the challenge facing donors and beneficiaries alike lay in providing the assistance necessary for developing countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  Indeed, there was a shortage of resources for that purpose in addition to the low capacity of countries to finance public investments.  Private international investments were directed towards profitable sectors that were not necessarily generators of growth.

It was not sufficient simply to increase the flow of aid to meet the Millennium Goals, he said, adding that macroeconomic challenges must be taken into account to achieve “harmonious development”.  The capacity to absorb aid depended on institutional capacity, which was a challenge.  There was also a need for competent public administration.  In order to achieve the Millennium Goals, “protagonists” must examine the environment for growth as it was the cornerstone of poverty reduction strategies.  States must also mobilize domestic resources.  The Governments of beneficiary countries must improve management, especially for public tendering.  Productive sectors must be developed, and countries must seek a balance among regional and subregional priorities.  Mali had developed a 10-year plan to achieve the Millennium Goals and an accelerated growth strategy, among other measures.  Donors must ensure their assistance was reliable while helping to establish well-run administrations.

Mr. COLLIER said the objective of aid was simply to help ordinary people in poor and slow-developing countries get out of poverty.  Poor people depended on two core processes to escape poverty:  jobs and social services.  There was a desperate shortage of proper wage employment, which had pushed many people into the role of “petty entrepreneurs”.  The focus must be on igniting the process of creating sustainable jobs.

The problem in aid allocation was that the amount of assistance was modelled on the modalities by which it was delivered, and donors did not need to coordinate among themselves, he said.  Budget support was the mechanism for coordination.  The missing elements were an international, independent certification system, and a capacity-building process to bring countries to that required level of certification.  The real challenge was what to do when that sort of approach was simply not credible, whereby Governments lacked the necessary budget support.  There should be a move away from the “pretence” of budget support in such cases.  Attempts to recreate an image of the “noble public-sector workforce”, which had happened “for a moment” in Europe after the Second World War, was a “dishonest exercise in wishful thinking”.  Actors like non-governmental organizations and churches, financed by international public money, should get involved, using close monitoring and high-powered incentives.  Where the need was great, so should be the aid allocated.  At the moment, allocation was based on the judgement of modalities, which resulted in giving the least to the environments needing the most.

On the strategic uses of aid, he said many of the neediest environments were structurally insecure.  The only part of development assistance that was truly responsive was the “humanitarian” component; the rest should be organized along analogous lines.  There was a need to be responsive to political circumstances and strategic opportunities, such as unblocking electric power shortages, which were vital to building job-creation environments.

Mr. GREENE said there was greater coherence among all United States foreign policy institutions, both civilian and military, and various trends better informed the Government’s thinking.  Indeed, there was a growing consensus among practitioners and think tanks that the United States must strengthen the way in which it organized, funded and delivered foreign assistance.  There was a greater understanding regarding the reinforcing relationships among foreign-assistance objectives.  There was an evolving understanding of the need to more effectively deploy foreign policy tools.  Furthermore, the United States understood clearly that there would be no progress towards sustainable development without working closely with international organizations, non-governmental organizations, other donors and host countries.

He said there was greater appreciation of the need to integrate the activities of non-traditional development-assistance players, and a greater understanding that measurable, sustainable progress was possible.  Finally, there was a sense of urgency regarding the elevation of development issues.  The funding priorities of the United States included a focus on removing obstacles to democratic development and on improving agricultural productivity.  One word captured the United States efforts to help better achieve development goals:  “more”.  There were more issues to consider, more aggregate resources, and most importantly, “more promise/more potential” for achieving long-term sustainable development goals.

In the ensuing interactive discussion, speakers from Government delegations, academia, international organizations and civil society addressed a range of issues, including the need to support vulnerable groups of countries, notably small-island developing States and middle-income nations.

One speaker said the idea that allocations should only be based on needs was a “daunting challenge”.  More money had been spread to more countries through more channels in an effort to be flexible.  Since donors had developed coordination frameworks, how could they develop incentives that would allow for a real division of labour?

In response, Mr. COLLIER said it was important to recognize that a range of policies could be used, and that Governments had done a poor job in the “whole Government approach”.  For example, solving hunger -- today’s “here and now” development crisis -- required changes in food policy in the United States and Europe.  The biofuel policy of the United States was wasting a third of its grain production.

Round Table B -- South-South and Triangular Development Cooperation

The round-table discussion on “South-South and triangular development cooperation:  what can development actors learn?” was chaired by ECOSOC Vice-President Antonia Pedro Monteiro Lima of Cape Verde, and moderated by Paavo Väyrynen, Minister of Foreign Trade and Development of Finland.  It featured the participation of Liu Guijin, Ambassador and Special Envoy on African Affairs of China; Karen Zelaya, Minister of International Cooperation of Honduras; and Masato Watanabe, Deputy Director-General International Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

Mr. GUIJIN said that this year -- the halfway mark to the Millennium Development Goals’ 2015 deadline -- featured key events that could generate momentum in the area of development cooperation, in general, and South-South cooperation, in particular.  The Millennium Development Goals High-Level Event to be held during the opening days of the sixty-third session of the General Assembly this September, and the Doha Review Conference on Financing for Development, should provide an opportunity for countries of the global South to deepen cooperation in all areas and for expanding or creating new models that took their unique interests into consideration.

He said that China had always sought to enhance its ever-closer cooperation, and the Beijing Summit on China-Africa Cooperation had set the stage for the two sides to cooperate in a spirit of political equality and mutual trust, economic win-win cooperation and cultural exchanges.  The establishment of that new type of strategic development cooperation and partnership was served the common interests of both nations and would help enhance solidarity, mutual support and assistance and unity.  China did not seek to impose any strategies and believed in “playing to the strengths” of Africa and other developing countries.

Next, Ms. ZELAYA said cooperation between countries in her region had begun to blossom in recent years, especially as neighbours began to identify cultural and historical similarities, areas of traditional development advantages or weaknesses, and local development needs that could be best addressed through shared responsibility.  That cooperation had led to assistance that was better-targeted, more cost-effective, and condition-free.  Honduras had entered into initiatives with Chile and Cuba, among other countries in the region, to address health concerns and had also been able to set up its national women’s institute.

Mr. WATANABE said South-South cooperation could enhance the capacity of donor countries as they aided and guided others.  It could also make an important contribution to broader development cooperation.  Japan had focused on, among other things, technical cooperation provided directly to recipient countries, as well as providing “third country” experts to recipient countries to train locals.  Japan also held an Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional meeting every year that was focused on “match-making” and bringing together countries with similar interests or needs to work on relevant projects.

During the discussion that followed those presentations, Government delegations shared their experiences in the area of South-South and triangular cooperation.  One speaker stressed that South-South cooperation must be considered on the same footing as other bilateral cooperation, and that developing countries must be incorporated into the general discussion on emerging strategies, best practices and international rules and regulations governing such trade and cooperation.

Another speaker, however, cautioned against broad harmonization of South-South and North-South development cooperation procedures.  He saw South-South cooperation as mutually beneficial agreements on assistance between nations with similar needs and experiences, while North-South cooperation was based on the historical responsibilities of the rich countries.  That was a fact that could not change; there was no replacement for official development assistance.

One speaker agreed, saying that, while South-South cooperation should be integrated into the global development agenda, it should not replace North-South or multilateral aid.  Others said that the paradox -- whether South-South cooperation created new donors or a new form of donor assistance -- needed to be discussed further.  Another delegate called for the creation of a South-South development framework to bring developing countries together.  “We know our needs, but we don’t know how to gain access to those who can help us, even though they might be in our own region,” he said.

Round Table C –- Civil Society

Council Vice-President Park In-kook of the Republic of Korea presided over the third round table, entitled “How are civil society and new actors enhancing impact at the country-level?”

Moderated by Peter Adams, Executive Director of New Zealand’s International Aid and Development Agency, the panel included the participation of Kumi Naidoo, Secretary-General and Chief Executive Officer, CIVICUS; Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Shona Grant, Director, Development Focus Area, World Business Council for Sustainable Development; and Mustafa Mkulo, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs of the United Republic of Tanzania.

Opening the round table, Mr. NAIDOO said that, nationally, civil society work took place on three levels: macro, mesa and micro levels, or the governance, policy and delivery levels, respectively.  Most activities currently focused on the micro, or delivery, level.  Yet, civil society was increasingly pushing its Government partners to leverage its reservoir of knowledge, which resulted from both successes and failures in the policy realm.  The value added from non-governmental organizations and civil society interventions came from their ability to take greater risks than Government entities, and that would ultimately increase the number of available policy options.

Mr. KAZATCHKINE said that the Global Fund, which had become the predominant multilateral supporter of programmes fighting the three pandemics, was successful because it relied on a partnership between civil society and Governments, in both policy design and implementation.  When properly supported, non-governmental organizations could not only reach some communities better than any other group, but they could, in turn, mobilize those communities in the most effective and innovative ways.  The private sector was also a key, but too often neglected, partner in the development field, particularly in the health-care field.

Ms. GRANT reiterated the importance of the private sector, saying that net private capital flows to developing countries had reached just over $1 trillion in 2007.  More than simply bringing in money, that sector could raise implementation capacity by increasing project management skills, construction expertise and the ability to efficiently run and maintain operations.  Further advantages included training, growth in small- and medium-sized enterprises, improved investment climates and social investment.  For those relationships to flourish, she advocated shared learning of both good and especially bad experiences.

She said it was time to come up with a twenty-first century term that moved beyond “aid”, as that implied a dependent relationship between the provider and recipient.  While such a relationship seemed appropriate for humanitarian efforts, it did not resonate well with human development goals seeking to empower individuals to pursue their own sustainable development.

Mr. MKULO said that in the United Republic of Tanzania, a historic shift in the relationship between the State and non-governmental organizations had turned former rivals into allies and led to a boom in non-State organizations.  One area where civil society had proved to be a particularly good advocate was in gender-related issues.  Still, current challenges to the partnership between civil society and the Government persisted, including limited technical and analytical skills for engagement with Government and donors on policy processes and finance, lack of coordination among different groups and a lack of information in rural areas, which constrained the groups’ participation in decision-making processes.

In the ensuing dialogue, several speakers stressed that competition for staff between Government institutions and non-governmental organizations often proved problematic for the State, which was unable to offer the same salaries as their non-profit partners.  One speaker underscored the need for civil society to approach their staffing decisions as an extension of their capacity-building goals and to seek to enhance local-level expertise on a non-competitive basis.

Concerning the question of “aid”, another speaker said that, while the call to “move beyond aid” was laudable, the reality of the food crisis and increasing poverty meant that aid would be needed for a long time to come.  Further, she said it was not enough for civil society to simply call to move beyond aid.  Rather, development policies must be consciously designed with that goal in mind.

Other participants called for greater support from civil society for the agricultural sector and for States to recognize the link between human rights and the sustainable development agenda.  The phrase “human rights in partnership” was suggested by one civil society representative as a possible replacement for the term “aid”.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.