Development assistance represents a large share of government resources in many recipient countries, yet – as a wide body of recent research has demonstrated – the impact of this assistance on development is often negligible. To increase aid effectiveness, the Paris Declaration (PD) and Accra Agenda for Action (AAA) commit both donors and recipients to implement a range of procedural and behavioral changes, ranging from alignment to transparency. With targets due to be met in 2010, and the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness scheduled for 2011, a number of persons are calling for a new, second generation declaration. However, for such an agreement to have merit, it must do more than repeat current commitments. In addition, it must be accompanied by stronger leadership and a genuine willingness to overcome incentives that undermine aid effectiveness.
In 2009 the Overseas Development Institute carried out 57 in-person interviews with senior government officials in Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Zambia. Responses suggest that donors must do more than implement currently agreed to commitments. Definitions of principles such as ‘predictability’ lack depth – a number of essential sub-dimensions, such as the importance of translating pledges into commitments and the need to speed up donor approval processes, are not mentioned. Furthermore, current declarations lack breadth – key donor behaviors and procedures, such as adapting to each country’s context, are insufficiently emphasized. In recognition of these shortcomings, preparations for (as well as implementation of) a future aid effectiveness declaration must take into account the following:
- Focus on the big picture and the final objective. While any future declaration should include time bound and measurable indicators, all commitments must be recognized and adhered to. And, as declarations are necessarily limited in scope, consideration should also be given to additional dimensions of effectiveness, including those more difficult to define. At the same time, the importance identifying and taking into account all dimensions of aid effectiveness needs to be balanced with the final objective of aid: development effectiveness - not aid effectiveness.
- Translate the agreement into action. Entrenched practices do not change simply by signing up to a declaration. Both donors and recipients must actively take steps to improve their procedures and behaviors. Staff and institutional incentives must be aligned with aid effectiveness principles. Legal impediments to aid effectiveness should, as far as possible, be overcome, rather than deferred to. To implement less understood dimensions of aid effectiveness, studies may be needed to identify best practice principles. However, where there is broad consensus on what is required (e.g. further delegating donor decision-making power to the field) action should be taken immediately.
- Pursue the aid effectiveness agenda with imagi¬nation. More of the same will not suffice. The debate on ‘what next?' must embrace, or at the very least consider, innovative ideas. Should we, as Owen Barder suggests, consider unbundling funding from program design, implementation and evalua¬tion? Should recipient governments cap the number of donor missions they will receive each year? Should an aid ombudsman be established to resolve aid-related disputes and ensure donors and recipients follow through on their commitments? These are just a few of the many ideas recently put forth.
*This opinion piece draws heavily upon Cecilie Wathne and Edward Hedger's briefing paper Aid Effectiveness Through the Recipient Lens, their project briefing What does an Effective Multilateral Look Like? and their report Multilateral Aid Organisations: Stakeholder Views on Effectiveness.
Cecilie Wathne is a Development Consultant. She previously worked for the Overseas Development Institute.
Related Material From Atlantic Community:
- Editorial Team: A New Course for Western Aid to Africa
- Owen Barder: Spotlight on Transparency
- Lawrence Haddad: Sixe Ways to Improve Aid Effectiveness