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Inclusiveness Wins at Busan Aid Forum

Suvendrini Kakuchi

BUSAN, South Korea, Dec 1 2011 (IPS) - Inclusiveness was the winner as donors, recipient governments, emerging economies, multilateral lenders and civil society representatives hammered out a consensual document at the close of a major meeting in this South Korean city to boost development aid effectiveness.

“The process has been bumpy but we have landed safely. The challenge is to move ahead along a less divided and more unified front,” said Talaat Abdel-Malek, co-chair of the Development Aid Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Abdel-Malek was referring to the Busan Outcome Document, released Thursday, that has been endorsed not only by traditional donors but also by new players such as China, India and Brazil that emerged as key actors at the three-day Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4).

The document pledged to “establish a new, inclusive and representative global partnership for effective development co-operation” and spoke of Busan as reference for South-South partnerships “on a voluntary basis.”

The rise of new players that do not belong to the Northern countries, particularly China, has become a complex issue in the development world. China insisted that the document was voluntary.

Under the new South-South co-operation, the group of emerging donors has launched small- and medium-scale bilateral and multilateral aid projects in poor countries. They provide knowledge, funds and technical expertise that primarily call for a results-based approach.

The approach has raised concern and pressure is rising to encourage the new actors to join the DAC that is committed to regulations and principles that support transparency, democratic rule and diverse stakeholders.

Economic slowdown in the big donor countries, including the United States, the European Union and Japan, that led the way over the past half century, has raised the risk of a squeeze in funding.

Paul Okuma, head of Secretariat Africa CSO Platform on Principled Partnership, Kenya, explained that the changes in aid are here to stay. “The politics have changed,” he told IPS, echoing the common voice in Busan that the European Union and the U.S. are no longer the only drivers in the development aid seat.

“The thrust for all development actors is to get along with China to support the need of the state which is growth. The option we face is to work with citizens in developing countries to be more aware of their own development effectiveness. This is the lesson in Busan,” he explained.

Experts at the conference expressed viewpoints that supported the role of emerging donors in global aid.

“In order to create a space for diverse development actors, the road ahead must be one that calls for understanding and accepting differences. The danger is to compare apples and oranges and force countries such as China to join traditional donor groups. This will not work,” said a senior official at the United Nations who declined to be named.

Li Shaojin, a Chinese official at the co-operation division of the international poverty reduction centre, told IPS that China’s contribution to development is based on its own experience that depended heavily on its own manpower and natural resources.

“China built its country relying on simple resources in its own country. We gained expertise in such areas as water resource management that has mobilised people who worked hard with local materials to expand our agriculture, industry and economy. We can share what we have with poor farmers around the world,” she said.

The Chinese official brushed aside concerns raised by experts on southern co-operation ignoring partnerships with local civil society organisations (CSOs), pointing out that the education and capacity building at the rural level in China was done with local groups.

Such comments, according to Prof. Masayoshi Ohashi, a development expert in Japan, reflect the growing need to move cautiously on the unified global co-operation model.

“The perception among some of us is that Busan watered down aid commitments to push through a global partnership. There is indeed a perception difference with the traditional donor world where hard won breakthroughs to earn better transparency and accountability should have been beefed up… in Busan,” he told IPS.

Still, Northern aid is riddled with issues. Stark examples of poor performance include the Millennium Development Goals that may exceed the 2015 deadline and the inability of DAC donors to contribute 0.7 percent of the GDP for aid disbursements.

Korean aid expert Jee-hae Ha, at Korea Eximbank, said South Korea, a new donor and member of DAC, has played the role of mediator in the debate to accept partnerships with middle-income countries.

“The South Korean development experience is based on strong growth at the beginning and also democratic principles that have become important now. The political statement of aid has been Northern countries at the top which South Korea is helping to balance,” she said.

The OECD co-hosted the meet with the South Korean government. Busan, a thriving port city and the second largest in the country, has been the venue and, according to delegates from developing countries, an inspiring model of development.

South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-Sik has promised to double aid to 0.25 percent of national GDP. The high-profile meeting, held for the first time in Asia, is symbolic of increasing growth and consensus and marks a dramatic shift in development assistance away from the West.

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