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‘Money Wasted Without Policy’

BRUSSELS, Apr 11 2013 (IPS) - As European Commission leaders make calls for EU countries to raise their spending on development aid for the world’s poor, groups working in underdeveloped states have warned that without more effective aid policies and networks, extra financing may be wasted.

Speaking as the European Report on Development (ERD) – an independent report prepared by NGOs and commissioned by EU member states – was launched Tuesday, European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs told journalists: “I was shocked and disappointed when it became apparent that there had been a trend of developing nations reducing their aid spending in recent years.

“This trend must be reversed, we must do more and raise our development aid financing.”

But assembled speakers at the launch event in Brussels were quick to point out that rich nations must look very carefully at the wider development agenda if they are to get “value for money” from their aid contributions.

Dr Debapriya Battacharya, Chair of Southern Voice on Post-MDG International Development Goals – a network of more than 40 think tanks from South Asia, Africa and Latin America, told IPS: “Just giving money to poorer countries and telling them to meet some arbitrary targets is a ‘lose-lose’ situation for all involved.

“The donor states’ taxpayers do not get value for money if nothing is changed and it is no good for the developing countries if they get money but can’t use it to their own requirements.”

The report, among other things, outlines a role for the EU in a future global development aid framework post 2015 when a replacement for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals is hoped to be introduced.

A recent study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed spending of official development assistance in its member states had fallen by 4 percent last year in real terms, following a 2 percent drop in 2011.

In some individual EU states the falls have been dramatic. In Spain, overseas aid funding is at its lowest level in 22 years.

There has been widespread criticism of the fall, and European Commission (EC) officials speaking at the launch of the ERD made constant references to the need to reverse the trend.

NGOs which have been critical of governments cutting back on development aid to meet domestic austerity targets agreed that rich countries needed to up their aid spending.

But they said that simply increasing aid financing would not be enough.

Gerard Vives, European coordinator for the European NGO CONCORD’s ‘Beyond2015’ campaign, told IPS: “The European Union must champion a global framework that places people at its centre. This means focusing on human rights and accountability. The framework must be accompanied by robust accountability mechanisms at all appropriate levels so that people can hold their governments to account for commitments made.

“Emerging consensus on a framework that tackles poverty and sustainability together is important as these issues are inextricably linked.”

But leaders and NGOs from some of the world’s least developed countries say that rich countries’ approach to development aid, while ostensibly well-intentioned, can often be flawed.

They complain that there is a lack of understanding about the development needs of individual countries and that setting arbitrary targets or goals internationally is not always useful at a local level.

Battacharya told IPS: “Any global development aid framework must be aligned to national needs, although how that is to be done is a great challenge and something for which there is no easy answer.”

And there is a feeling among some groups that richer countries, including those in the EU, do not listen carefully enough to the voices of those in poorer nations about aid.

Battacharya told IPS: “This whole post-2015 debate is about a balance of power and there is a definite asymmetry of power in favour of the North, notably in terms of knowledge. There is an elaborate process of consultation going on but it does not necessarily produce critical knowledge.

“We need to make sure that voices are brought in from the South where we know from experience what has worked and what has not from the MDGs.”

However, the ERD does address some of these issues directly, making clear that any aid will be misspent unless it is used to help create ‘sustainable and inclusive’ development, including, among others, creating long-term job opportunities, addressing climate change and global financial transparency, inequality, lack of social inclusion and justice.

But some experts are unconvinced that this is the right approach to take and that it could in fact make it harder to raise development around the globe.

Jan Vandemoortele, a co-architect of the MDGs and now an independent author and lecturer, told IPS: “There is a misconception that the MDGs mismatched with national targets. But if you go to individual countries, you see that they have adapted the MDGs to their own targets, sometimes higher than the global targets, and sometimes lower, depending on their individual income.

“Not every country has to hit MDG targets for the world to fulfil the global target. If we all do our bit the global target is met.”

He added: “Now, everyone around the table wants their issue included in the new replacement for the MDGs. That cannot work. Someone has to make a decision to leave something out. You have to ask is the new framework about a means to a development end or about the ultimate end itself? I think it has to be about the ultimate end itself and issues like trade and finance are a means, not an end, and they should be left out.

“I am not confident that a new global framework will be found. It has become very politicised with so many governments using it to push national or regional agendas.”

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