On accountability, G8 fails to walk the walk

More details have emerged in the past couple weeks on the G8’s commitment to improve maternal, newborn and child health through the “Muskoka Initiative,” but not enough to deliver on the G8’s other critical commitment at the 2010 summit – to enhance their own accountability.

The initiative (which includes a $5 billion in funding from G8 countries, $2.3 billion from non-G8 donors and a handful of qualitative principles and targets) was unveiled by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the first day of the summit and outlined in an annex of the final G8 communiqué. Harper specified that the $5 billion commitment from the G8 would be “additional” funding and that Canada would be contributing $1.1 billion in new resources over the next five years. Advocates and experts alike were disappointed by the G8’s lack of ambition (with $5 billion representing just a fraction of the estimated $30 billion needed from donors to meet maternal and child health targets), and without details on individual country commitments, it was also impossible to applaud the clarity of the announcement.

Last week, an official “methodology document” shed some light on the numbers behind the initiative, with details on how the G8 had calculated their current spending on maternal, newborn and child health (i.e. their collective baseline). To anyone familiar with the tedious business of tracking DAC purpose codes and calculating imputed percentages of multilateral organizations like the Global Fund and the World Bank, this analysis is both incredibly thorough and extremely valuable for advocates and recipient countries.

Yet some of the most critical details on the $5 billion G8 commitment are missing. It’s still unclear what each country is contributing towards the initiative and whether their commitments are truly additional to current spending. The United States, Germany and France have announced their contributions (though not necessarily their baselines) and some additional details have been unofficially reported.

For those of us accustomed to following international summit processes, this story is all too familiar: a vague commitment is made, advocates respond with tepid applause (and a reminder that more is needed), and the following year is spent haranguing governments to clarify what they promised to ensure that it is eventually delivered (if you haven’t seen my colleague Erin Thornton’s recent post on tracking G8 commitments, check it out here).

This year felt different though. Prime Minister Harper put accountability squarely on the summit agenda back in January, and one week before the summit the G8 released a self-evaluation of their progress towards meeting development commitments with the Muskoka Accountability Report. Although the G8 promised to “ensure follow-up” on the conclusions and recommendations of the report, they shunned the first opportunity to actually implement them through the development of a robust, transparent and accountable Muskoka Initiative.

The G8 would argue that advocates can now calculate each individual donor’s baseline using the agreed methodology- a somewhat painful exercise, but certainly not impossible. But by failing to offer up these details themselves, the G8 are not only allowing some countries to hide flimsy, potentially dishonest commitments behind a collective promise, they are missing the bigger picture on accountability.

And everyone loses in this scenario. Advocates are still ill-equipped to hold their governments accountable, recipient countries face another hurdle to planning their budgets for next year, and, in a critical year when the changing global architecture and emergence of the G20 is grabbing the lion’s share of media headlines, the G8 has missed another opportunity to flex their muscle and demonstrate their relevance.