Old wine in new bottles?

The 3rd High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness ended Sept. 4 after two intensive days of roundtable discussions and consultations. The The new Agenda for Action, drafted by forum participants, highlighted four key points:

  • Aid money should be spent according to a recipient country's development agenda rather than their own.

  • Donors should provide a 3-5 year work plan on their aid strategy to partner countries, to better align their efforts and in turn improve the quality of aid.

  • Aid should be allocated using a "partner" country's strategic goals and administrative systems rather than those of a donor.

  • Untying restrictions would help developing countries to pay for food, technical assistance and other goods and services.

The agenda does not demand firm commitments from donor countries on accountability and transparency in the development process. In fact, conference participants acknowledged that it is unrealistic to expect signatories of the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness to fully implement their commitments by 2010. Instead, they suggested 2015 as a target date.

As the number of development organizations increases, the sheer number of projects, strategies and procurement mechanisms is compromising the effectiveness of aid. Ensuring better alignment presents a complex challenge: Donors must coordinate more efficiently with each other as well as recipient countries, and they may have to "let go" some of their priority areas if they not aligned with an aid recipient's development agenda - all while staying accountable to tax payers.

"As long as the donor community continues to see foreign aid as a tool for its foreign policy, full alignment with partner country priorities cannot take place," said Debapriya Bhattacharya, Bangladesh's ambassador to the World Trade Organization and United Nations, in a statement.

Participants of an Accra roundtable titled "Whose Ownership, Whose Leadership" acknowledged that it has been harder than originally anticipated to foster an aid recipient country's "ownership" of development. True ownership requires a strong political commitment as well as broadly shared incentives for change.

Without the necessary political commitment and incentives for change, there's little reason to believe the issues Accra highlighted will be tackled successfully by then.

About the author

  • Sofia Palli

    Sofia Palli, a Devex fellow in the summer of 2008, has worked as a research associate for inter-governmental agencies (UNDP, IFAD) and NGOs in Indonesia, Vietnam and Greece. She served as an affiliated M.A. student at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, researching aid effectiveness. Sofia holds a bachelor’s in political science from National University of Athens and a master’s in international development and management from Lund University, Sweden. She is fluent in Greek and English and speaks French, German and Swedish.