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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon


Secretary-General's message to the Development Cooperation Forum of the Economic and Social Council [delivered by Mr. Thomas Stelzer, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs]

New York, 30 June 2008

I am delighted to convey warm greetings to the first Development Cooperation Forum of the Economic and Social Council. Expectations for this body are high. My personal hope is that this inaugural session will establish the Forum as the principal venue for review of and dialogue on international development cooperation.

The Development Cooperation Forum takes place in a year in which the United Nations is involved in a broad range of actions to further the international development agenda. UNCTAD-XII, the High-level Event on the Millennium Development Goals – which I will convene on 25 September, together with the President of the General Assembly – and the Doha Review Conference on Financing for Development, to be held later this year, are key United Nations processes. In addition, the High-level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra in early September will bring further attention to aid delivery and management and making development assistance work better for improving the lives of the poor. The current impasse in the WTO negotiations also points up the importance of improving aid to ensure development.

Within this context, the Development Cooperation Forum will have a special niche in form – through its inclusive participation, broad ownership and interactive discussions – and its focus – on the effectiveness of development cooperation in supporting achievement of the MDGs and the other internationally agreed development goals.

I am convinced that the sharing of experiences of how development cooperation works at the country-level will highlight the challenges in this area facing the international development community as well as provide useful lessons on how to move ahead. Building on a number of preparatory events engaging a range of policymakers and practitioners, the Forum will help to bring discussions on the management, coordination and delivery of aid at the country level closer to the global discussions on development cooperation – and vice versa.

At the launch of the Development Cooperation Forum, a year ago in Geneva, I outlined the challenges that the international community faces in taking a decisive step forward in the global partnership on development. In particular, I emphasized the fragmentation and complexity of the international aid architecture. I also expressed concern that aid allocations are not always in accordance with agreed criteria and that programme countries experience severe constraints in trying to assume full ownership of their national development strategies. These challenges persist.

We have, in the last 12 months, witnessed a number of worrying trends which could affect implementation of the global development agenda, as I highlighted this morning in my opening address to the Economic and Social Council. Among them, spiralling food and energy prices, stoking inflation, have added to our challenges, endangering political stability in some countries and leading to protectionist measures. Meanwhile, climate change is threatening to undo past development gains and is pushing more people into distress, leading to increased vulnerability and uncertainty.

These challenges make clear the urgent need to strengthen the global partnership for development. An essential demonstration of commitment to do this would be stepped-up efforts and actions by donors to reach the 0.7 per cent target for development assistance. The secular decline of ODA as a percentage of GNI was reversed for a time following Monterrey. Alarmingly, in the last few years, ODA has declined in nominal terms. Donors should not only move urgently to scale up aid, but this should be done in a predictable manner, through increased budget support, which will enable multi-year planning by programme countries.

This Forum can serve to strengthen the coherence and effectiveness of development cooperation by identifying obstacles for programme countries in realizing the full potential of development assistance as well as overall trends in development cooperation.

As all development actors now agree, without national ownership, there will be little progress towards sustainable development. Financial and technical assistance will have a clear impact only if it is aligned with national priorities. A good example of this is direct budget support, which strengthens national policy autonomy, provides greater flexibility and can substantially lower transaction costs. Programme countries need policy space to formulate and pursue their priorities, guided by the internationally agreed development goals, including the MDGs. Many countries, however, still have only limited capacities for negotiating, coordinating, managing and evaluating aid. There is an urgent need for coordinated international support to build their capacities in this area.

Another obstacle is that development assistance does not always go where it is most needed. Some countries enjoy the attention of the international community, while others find it harder to attract funding. As a result, some countries receive less aid than would be expected on the basis of their needs or performance. The allocation of aid across sectors is also cause for concern. Recent years have seen decreasing levels of aid for economic infrastructure and production. The decline in agricultural aid in recent decades is a particularly worrying trend in light of recent developments.

Aid continues to be burdened with conditionalities, which undermine national autonomy, lead to distortions in aid allocations and have a poor record in improving economic performance. Conditionality attached to the mechanisms of aid disbursement and accounting makes aid less predictable and can cause severe delays in disbursement. This makes it difficult for national authorities to plan and execute their development strategies. Aid also needs to be responsive to help countries adjust to exogenous shocks and sudden disruption.

Stronger mutual accountability is one route towards a more balanced relationship between donor and programme countries, in which both sides may be held to account for the performance of their obligations.

A significant global trend has been the enhancement of additional sources of development cooperation, especially South-South cooperation and private philanthropy. International development cooperation has indeed changed in recent years, and we are still coming to terms with how best to ensure balance and coherence, while making the most of the new opportunities.

These changes demand our attention if we want to achieve improved international development cooperation with greater impact on the internationally agreed development goals. The Development Cooperation Forum provides an opportunity to better understand them and to build broad agreement on how to proceed – together.

The voice of the Forum will have a special legitimacy, anchored, as it will be, in a rich set of views and perspectives of the range of actors in development cooperation.

I encourage all stakeholders to take full advantage of the Forum, to raise new questions, perspectives and ideas on international development cooperation. Together, let us make this first Forum a success.

Statements on 30 June 2008