May 25th, 2011 12:58 PM UTC
By Friederike Röder
Brian Atwood, chair of the DAC-OECD and former head of USAID, looks back at five decades of international development in honor of the OECD’s 50th anniversary in this exclusive interview with ONE.
What is the one thing with which the DAC has changed the face of development over the last 50 years?
The DAC has been a part of the evolution of development thinking over those fifty years and there have been many paradigm shifts during that period. One was the report “Shaping the 21st Century” written by the DAC in the 1990s. With that, the DAC moved from just exclusively looking at volume issues –- the 0.7 percent and other volume targets -– to goals. The development goals were then adopted by the G8 and eventually by the UN.
With the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Action Agenda, we have engraved in stone principles such as local ownership, being more predictable and transparent and trying to harmonize our activities. All of these principles define “development cooperation.” The DAC is no longer responsible for a one-dimensional relationship called aid, which in my mind smacks of charity and gives the impression that developing countries are the ailing partner and need help. We’re in this together.
The Millennium Development Goals are meant to be reached by 2015, but the G8 Gleneagles commitments ran out in 2010. What is going to happen between now and 2015?
A few weeks ago, we announced the largest ODA level of all time, $130 billion. Partially, this was the result of the Gleneagles commitment, but it was also the result of many countries establishing policies that put them on a path to achieve the 0.7 percent UN goal.
Today the projections are that aid from DAC countries are going to flatten out because of budget crises. That does not include the contributions made by the emerging economies and private donors. Some private donors are providing very large amounts — the Gates foundation, about $2.8 billion.
But the issue is not just the quantity, it is also the quality of the partnership. Increasingly, you see the developing countries taking on more responsibility for their own development and raising more tax revenues. So it is policies, institutions and human development that all add up to progress, it is not just volume that is necessary.
The DAC has developed a set of “pledging guidelines” –- can you tell us about them and how they might influence donors’ development commitments?
We have adopted them in March. They force the donors to abide by procedures for making pledges that are more predictable, more measurable, more comparable, more realistic and accountable and transparent. It is ironic, but we just had a controversy over the G8 who decided to ignore the OECD guidelines and not to include constant dollars in their estimate. I think that was a mistake on their part.
Some people criticize the OECD for being an elite members’ club. What do you respond?
It is fashionable to call us elite. Given what we have been doing in recent years in reaching out to the developing world –- creating the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness that is half made up of countries from the developing world — it is not a fair perception.
More than any other organization we want the views of developing countries. The last three meetings we held, including the senior level meeting, China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Russia participated. We issued a statement that welcomed a dialogue with the new providers of assistance and basically said that a country could be a provider and a recipient of assistance at the same time. In DAC terms at least this was an historic statement that shows the direction we are heading.
These emerging economies like China, Brazil and India are becoming increasingly important development partners for Africa. If you had two minutes to convince the BRICS to start adhering to OECD principles, what would you say?
I wouldn’t try to convince them to join the OECD. They should decide that on their own. We have a common ground and a convergence of interests that should make it important to share more information, to understand each other better, and to understand how they see their obligation to the MDGs as we see ours. At least until we have a meeting of minds, it is not time to twist arms to convince people to join the DAC.
What are your objectives for the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan? How many more High Level Forums do you think we will need until aid is truly effective?
Busan is going to be much more important than its title suggests: the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. It has the potential to attract more than 150 countries. What we hope for is broader and deeper partnership and to contribute to rationalizing the international system.
If we are able to reach agreement with the BRICS, the private sector, the developing countries we’ll have something special, bigger than Paris or Accra.
Aid transparency is critical for developing countries’ ability to plan. What can the DAC do to make data more accessible to developing countries?
It’s a political will question. There has been some progress made, but there is no question that there are still problems like double counting. When a developing country sets up a coordination unit they have a hard time figuring out what everyone is doing in their country. We need to get at that problem and fix it. Civil society groups are having a good influence here.
How would you wish that the DAC looks like in 50 years?
My hope would be that there would be no need for a DAC in 50 years time.
TAGS: Development Assistance
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