Are donors backtracking on country ownership?

Posted by Nicola McIvor Policy Adviser, Development Finance and Public Services

28th Mar 2014

Oxfam workers in Gendrassa camp in South Sudan unload crates containing water pipes and motors that will provide clean water to thousands of refugees. Credit: Alun McDonald/Oxfam

We're still waiting for answers to this question, explains aid and inequality policy adviser, Nicola McIvor.

Yesterday the findings of the global aid effectiveness monitoring framework were finally due to be published. But the release has now been pushed back again to next week, after numerous delays and two false launch dates, raising some concerns about the monitoring process since the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.

Almost two and a half years ago, heads of state, parliamentarians, business people, and civil society practitioners met in Busan, Korea. The forum resulted in the creation of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC), setting the international standard on effective aid and good development practice. Oxfam was part of the Busan meeting to push for an improvement in the quality of aid that flows into developing countries every year.

The most significant outcome from the meeting was the broadening of "country ownership," i.e. development as a process driven by people, not only governments, and not by donors.  Country ownership of aid is intended to result in more coordinated and predictable aid, giving developing countries greater control over how the money is spent. 

Despite initial reluctance on the part of a number of northern aid donors, the global monitoring framework was put in place to measure how well these international commitments were achieved, and to allow peers and citizens to hold governments accountable for those commitments. When, in 2011, civil society stakeholders were concerned that donors wanted to scrap the monitoring framework, Oxfam warned that aid was on a "knife-edge."

For the first time since that meeting in 2011, development actors have been assessed on their performance against the commitments made in Busan. When in 2010 recipient countries performed far better than the aid donors by meeting their commitments on the previous global monitoring systems, one might think that donors would have stepped up their game for the next round of reporting. Unfortunately this is not what we have seen. 

The original plan was for the findings to come in early 2014, in time to inform political dialogue during the 1st GPEDC high-level meeting on the 15-16th of April, when many of the actors who helped set the agenda in Busan will gather in Mexico City to review their progress (or lack of) and agree on action to boost implementation of Busan Partnership Agreement commitments

The early findings of the GDEPC monitoring evidence show that overall little progress has been made, though they are being sold as 'glass half full.' For a number of indicators, it is too early to tell. But of particular concern are the indicators that measure aspects of country ownership. According to these initial findings donors failed to make any progress on the use of country systems.  Unlike previous reporting on aid effectiveness, data on how individual governments have performed will not be made available in the full monitoring report, with the exception of the transparency indicator.

And to make matters worse, current drafts of the Mexico communiqué-the follow-up document of the GPEDC-fail to explicitly address indications of serious threats to ownership demonstrated in the Busan monitoring data, such as increased closing of civil society space in a number of countries. It is clear that there is both more work to be done in terms of the quality of the reporting, and on stakeholders' performance against the indicators.   

With the meeting just two weeks away, the late release of the report points to another set of questions for the delegates to address in Mexico:

  • Why is the data being published so late in the day, and how will stakeholders ensure more timely publication of future data releases?
  • Do the indicators effectively capture and measure what they are intended to?
  • Is it a fair and accurate assessment of efforts?
  • Will the lack of country disaggregation and ranking have strong enough political pressure to improve aid performance?
  • Have the authors of the Busan Partnership Agreement invested sufficiently in the right infrastructure to ensure that countries have the capacity to report on this?
  • Is this process too political to be supported by governments?

In Busan, stakeholders made it clear that "partnerships for development can only succeed if they are led by developing countries," but donors seem to be losing sight of this fundamental dimension. Country ownership means going beyond the usual rhetoric and superficial tick-boxes. It's time to give citizens a chance to assume their due role in the planning, monitoring, and effective oversight of development aid.

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Read our other blogs on aid and accountability.

Main image: Oxfam workers in Gendrassa camp in South Sudan unload crates containing water pipes and motors that will provide clean water to thousands of refugees. Credit: Alun McDonald/Oxfam

Blog post written by Nicola McIvor

Policy Adviser, Development Finance and Public Services

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Nicola McIvor