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New Deal for Donors and Recipients at Busan?

Analysis by Suvendrini Kakuchi

BUSAN, South Korea, Nov 27 2011 (IPS) - The Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4), starting in this port city on Tuesday, will examine why international donor assistance worth trillions of dollars spent over decades has failed to eradicate poverty.

Some 2,500 delegates, including leaders from 160 countries and civil society organisations (CSOs), are expected to carry forward the principles of international development cooperation set out at past forums held in Rome in 2003, Paris in 2005, and Accra, Ghana, in 2008.

Leaders of CSOs at the Nov. 26-28 Open Forum for Civil Society highlighted the need for greater political commitment to providing development aid at a time of financial crises and question marks against food security and climate change.

“Busan is an arrival and a departure destination. It is symbolic of the ongoing process to move from aid effectiveness to development effectiveness. This means we must push ahead with common aid agendas among all stakeholders,” said Seonghoon Lee (Anselmo), chair of the organising committee for the Busan Global Civil Society Forum.

With its skyscrapers and affluent population, Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, symbolises the rise of a country from aid recipient to one of Asia’s new donors in less than 50 years.

Lee said South Korea, that joined the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) in 2010, is more than just another donor.

“The risk we face in Busan is taking South Korea’s achievements as representing the merits of achieving high economic growth under the direction of a strong government.

“Instead, South Korea symbolises the determination to achieve our own destination based on our own indigenous culture which is a showpiece, ultimately, of the crucial need for each country to charter its own development,” Lee told IPS.

South Korea gained independence from Japanese colonisation at the end of World War 11. The post-independence government pursued a state-led industry and export-based economic growth policy that, Lee said, is now being touted as a shining example of development.

Civil society researchers have described the country’s impressive economic growth rates during the past two decades as fostering corruption and promoting large conglomerates – a process detrimental to small and medium companies and diversity within the South Korean economy.

Such lessons, according to aid experts in Busan, will inform a rights-based approach to aid effectiveness.

Serious steps to reform global assistance were launched in Paris in 2005 by donors and aid agencies, leading to the Paris Agenda that brought to the table effective aid principles such as harmonising development goals, better co-ordination and shared responsibility.

A major grouse with development experts is the imbalance between donor and recipient countries. Tax-payers in rich donor countries demand accountability and standards that often force the recipients to shift focus from local development agendas, eroding progress in poverty reduction.

The Accra Agenda in 2008 set out clear targets to deal with the transparency issues that dog aid effectiveness through civil society collaboration and Busan is expected to provide a platform for the successful delivery of the Accra commitments.

Amy Bartlett, global coordinator for the Open Forum, explained that “CSOs are committed to a multi-stakeholder dialogue in Busan.”

Such a holistic approach based on transparency and good governance is expected to help overcome bottlenecks created by ‘tied aid’ budgets.

New surveys conducted this year to assess aid effectiveness indicate continued friction between donors and receiving countries. Breakthroughs in top-down aid measures, where donors ignore the challenges on the ground, continue to stifle progress.

Challenges to aid effectiveness that will come up at Busan include the entry of newly emerging non-DAC donors such as China -a key player in overseas aid that is reluctant to join the Accra Agenda or the Paris Declaration.

Justin Kilcullen, director of CONCORD, Europe, an aid network organisation, explained to IPS the importance of a rights-based approach that supports inclusive growth aimed at bettering lives rather than economic growth alone.

“The aid budget of the European Union, the world’s largest donor, faces a neo-liberal growth agenda, given the rise of governments that focus on a private sector approach to aid distribution,” Kilcullen said. “Economic expansion does not represent development, but rather is a step away from recognising the right of people to ethical growth,” he said.

Emele Duituturaga, interim executive director of Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, spoke of the opportunities and threats ahead for developing countries from new donors.

“New donors such as China operating in the Pacific represent both opportunities and threats. They provide paths to developing countries seeking improved aid, but do not follow international standards and seek to exploit our natural resources,” she said.

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