Of all the Declarations, in all the world...
News from this weekend suggests that DfID will be reversing its hitherto strong backing to the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. My initial reactions were of shock and disappointment. Shock because DfID has been an ardent supporter of the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action. Disappointment because it was so unexpected: it has a strong, highly competent aid effectiveness department and has also used the Declaration to push Government reform.
I’ve noted after viewing the original leaked memo that the original advice was in favour of maintaining the Paris Declaration as a commitment by DfID. Most of the other commitments dropped simply serve to cut the amount of ringfencing of DfID’s budget and therefore increase its flexibility to meet the needs of different developing countries.
The decision to rescind their commitment to the PD is a much more problematic one, however. The issues essentially break down as follows:
What has DfID Reversed?
The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (PD) is an agreement signed by donor agencies and Governments and aid-recipient Governments in 2005. The Declaration establishes a number of best practices in aid management that all parties promise to adhere to, and twelve targets which all parties are to be assessed on. These targets and commitments were strengthened by the Accra Agenda for Action (AAA) in 2008.
The idea behind the PD and AAA is to make it easier for Governments to manage, use and report on aid by simplifying the way aid is contracted, disbursed and evaluated. It also seeks to maximise the benefit to the developing country by untying aid and ensuring that aid be channelled through the working local process of the aid-recipient Government. Thus aid is promised to be channelled through the local budget process, use the local accounting and audit procedures and be evaluated according to local processes. It further stressed the need to make aid as flexible as possible by using fungible General and Sector Budget Support.
Recipient Governments also made pledges to improve their own systems: of audit, budgeting and so on, and to be assessed independently on them.
The Paris Declaration has two very big positive points. The first is that it seeks to increase the ability of local actors to respond to their own problems flexibly and not be dictated to by a multitude of individual donors. It thus helps reduce the coordination problem of aid and encourages local solutions and visions of development.
The second major benefit, related to the first, is that it moves the lines of accountability of aid. Instead of aid money being handled by the donors, in which case the donors are accountable to their own taxpayers and no-one else, it creates dual accountability. First the donor gives money to the recipient Government to use. That Government is thus accountable to the donor, and must show that the money was used appropriately. But far more important than this, because aid money is now on budget and managed by local Governments a second line of accountability is created: of the recipient Government spending the money to the local electorate. Through the budget debates in Parliament, these people have the chance to contest the use of aid through their elected representatives; they also have the ability to vote a Government out of power if it doesn’t use aid money well. The Government now has to justify aid money in the same way it does tax money.
Additionally, the PD addresses lots of smaller, niggling issues that seriously hamper the capacity of Governments, for example setting a target for the reduction of cumbersome and time consuming donor missions by combining them.