Busan: A Bang or a Whimper?

Busan logoThe Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness drew to a close on 1 December, with the Korean hosts able to celebrate the delivery of a new global partnership on effective development cooperation. Emerging powers including China and India have endorsed the document, a document that makes clear in its second paragraph that commitments that apply to traditional aid differ from those that apply to south-south cooperation, and that contains few clear and concrete commitments on making aid more effective.

For the glass half-full types, the conversation has been usefully broadened to consider issues that go far beyond aid and that involve new actors. Civil society had a seat at the table and the private sector was brought into the fold. For the glass half-empty types, the aid effectiveness gains that might have been achieved have been surrendered in the enthusiasm to broaden the conversation, or, perhaps, in the effort by some donors to avoid their aid effectiveness commitments.

ONE has been on the ground in Busan, pushing for greater transparency and accountability and a sharper focus on results. These issues – along with fragile states and engaging emerging powers – have been the primary issues discussed at Busan.

On transparency, there has been great progress. Firstly, the Outcome Document commits donors to making their aid transparent, in line with the International Aid Transparency Initiative. ONE has pushed hard on this, supporting the first-rate efforts of Publish What You Fund.  Secondly, with a number of donors including Canada and the USA announcing that they will sign up to IATI – with the USA’s move announced by Secretary Clinton – information about more than 75% of aid will now be made public.

On accountability, the outcome document emphasizes that governments in developing countries need to manage public resources in ways that are transparent and accountable, and that allow and enable parliaments and civil society organizations to hold governments accountable. It also emphasizes the importance of effective institutions, a welcome nod to the fact that aid and development effectiveness are political as well as technical matters. These encouraging words on accountability will need to be given life through initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership and the Global Initiative on Fiscal Transparency.

Finally, results was perhaps the single biggest focus of Busan with speaker after speaker emphasizing that aid and development cooperation must be about achieving results that will, in time, mean that aid is no longer necessary. The outcome document makes clear that results monitoring should be country-led, and that further capacity is needed to be developed for citizens in developing countries to monitor their own progress and hold governments to account, which will be implemented through a global Action Plan to enhance statistical capacity.

The greatest test of Busan however will actually begin now, in building out a post-Busan global monitoring architecture with clear measurable indicators and targets that is inclusive of all actors, and holds all participants to account. It’s too early to say whether Busan will be remembered as a success or a failure. Over the coming months and years ONE will be working hard to ensure that Busan is remembered not as the last pathetic whimper of the aid effectiveness agenda, but as the first glorious hurrah of a wider more inclusive global partnership for effective development cooperation.