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DEVELOPMENT: Accra Agenda for Action – A Step Backwards?

Miriam Mannak

ACCRA, Sep 1 2008 (IPS) - Ahead of the Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF3), opening in Accra on September 2nd, representatives of civil society at a parallel forum have raised concerns that the HLF could represent a step backwards in efforts to improve aid effectiveness.

Agnes Nyoka Peter -- "In order to make aid more effective, donors should engage more with civil society." Credit:  Miriam Mannak/IPS

Agnes Nyoka Peter -- "In order to make aid more effective, donors should engage more with civil society." Credit: Miriam Mannak/IPS

Delegates from 380 civil society organisations (CSOs) from around the world gathered in the Ghanaian capital of Accra from 31 August – 1 September for the CSO Parallel Forum on Aid Effectiveness.

One of the objectives of the Parallel Forum was to strengthen civil society's preparations for its participation during the High Level Forum.

"Another goal is to promote CSO advocacy towards development effectiveness," said Antonio Tujan, chairman of the Forum's steering group.

HLF3 will bring together 800 representatives of donor agencies, governments and international financial institutions – as well as a group of 80 civil society organisations – to discuss progress made since the signing of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness in 2005.

The Accra Agenda for Action (AAA) that will be presented to participants in the High Level Forum principally recommends strengthening ownership of development processes by countries receiving aid, more effective partnerships between various actors involved in aid, and better delivery of and accounting for tangible results of aid.

Many of those at the CSO meeting feel the AAA represents a step backwards from the Paris Declaration.

"The AAA is too weak and is not sufficiently making aid work for poor people," said Hamida Harrison of the Ghanaian women's rights' organisation Netright.

"Figures show that 1.4 billion people live under the poverty line of $1.25 a day. We are concerned about how the neo-liberal economic model is failing in delivering promised results of growth for all."

CSOs have also expressed their worries about the concept of conditionality of aid, which remains a component of the AAA.

This means that countries only receive aid when they meet certain conditions. These include respect for human rights, lowering inflation levels, and promoting privatisation of public utilities.

"Developing nations are also forced to cut public expenditure. This means that a country is punished for wanting to invest in the social sector," says Gemma Adaba of the International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC).

"Zambia for instance wanted to set up a strategy to train 4,000 teachers. The World Bank declared that the country could not afford this, and threatened not to support this project if one would proceed with these plans."

Another controversial condition attached to aid is the cutting of government subsidies in agriculture and the social sector. "Poor nations are forced to charge higher fees for for instance health and education, because they are not allowed to subsidize," says Adaba.

"This means that governments of poor countries are forced to ask their citizens to pay more for crucial services, pushing them further into poverty."

A further complaint raised at the CSO forum is that the AAA is not paying enough attention to gender issues. "The majority of the people that live below the poverty line are women and girls. It is therefore essential to analyse the implications of the aid effectiveness agenda for the advancement of gender equity, women's rights, and women's empowerment," said Harrison.

It is not all doom and gloom. Progress has been made since the Paris Declaration with regards to gender equality.

"The AAA for instance acknowledges that women's rights and gender equity are crucial in achieving enduring impact in reducing poverty," says Inés Alberdi, executive director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). "Yet, one of the concerns is that the AAA fails to allocate resources and to bind donors to work on gender equity and women's rights."

She adds: "Aid effectiveness without a women's rights perspective and without gender equity is impossible. It will not lead to effective development and will not contribute to reduce poverty."

ITUC's Adaba does not expect much of the HLF3 and the AAA. "The document is too weak and does not make aid more effective. However, I must say that some progress has been made since the Paris Declaration. CSOs have received more recognition as development actors. In 2005, 50 organisations participated, now we are with 80. This gives us a stronger push to make aid more effective."

Agnes Nyoka Peter, member of parliament in the Sudanese government for national unity and the driving force behind the women's rights organisation South Sudan Women Christian Mission for Peace, says that the number CSOs are participating at the HLF3 is not sufficient.

"This meeting is all about donors, multinational financial institutions and government officials," she said. "There is little room for CSO participation and engagement. In order to make aid more effective, donors should engage more with civil society."

Brian Pratt, executive director of the UK-based International NGO Training and Research Centre too has his doubts about the impact, effect, and intentions of the HLF3.

"It is not about effectiveness, it is about making aid more efficient for donors and financial institutions. Being efficient is not bad per definition, but it is a different concept from effectiveness. Enrolling a large group of girls in school in a short period of time is not effective aid when the quality of education is poor. They don't learn anything."

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