Wanted: A Real Global Partnership

John Sinclair on why the most recent model for a Global Partnership on development is failing to reach its potential.
By: /
April 11, 2013
Distinguished Associate of the North-South Institute and a member of the McLeod Group

Partnership, especially global, has to be something worthwhile. So where indeed is the newest model for international aid governance, designed in the closing hours of the Busan (Korea) Conference? [i].

The formal title is the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GP). The GP is meant to represent a new beginning in co-operation between the old world of Western donors (the DAC [ii]) and new donors from the developing world such as China and India.  An increasingly differentiated world of development partners, what we used to call ‘recipients’, ranges from success stories such as Ghana to the most fragile of states, such as Haiti. The goal is to take aid governance out of the exclusive hands of Western donors. The earlier Paris Declaration recognised (but did not act on) a key message that effective development co-operation demanded beneficiary leadership, not donor diktat.  The Busan process extended that to accord legitimacy to civil society and the private sector as key stakeholders.

Despite the broad mandate, the Global Partnership is still far from being the promised authoritative and representative global body providing high-level political leadership on development co-operation. For now, it is a group of international ‘worthies’, admittedly including a few actual ministers, another discussion forum supported by advisors from the DAC and UNDP.  Their immediate focus is on the broad approach to the emerging Post-2015 Agenda, including the multiple challenges, political and technical, of blending ideas for enhanced MDGs and new SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

This partnership of old and new actors, one that would shape and drive the Post-2015 agenda of ending poverty, is at best still dormant. Disruptive competition between old and new donors remains a real possibility.  The G77, the UN grouping that is nominally the united front for developing countries, is pressing the primacy of the SDGs.  It may now be left to the UN Secretary-General himself to try to arbitrate with those with an MDG-focus.

The GP is not yet functioning as the planned high-level political driver, mediator, and trouble-shooter of the global co-operation agenda. Instead it is becoming preoccupied with planning a major international conference for the fall, which at the very least seems premature and worse could become a disruptive talkfest, impeding progress in framing the needed, pro-poor Post-2015 framework. The risk is of a stalled process due to an unwanted convergence of wariness in the distinct approaches of some ‘old’ donors and leading G77 spokespersons on topics such as inclusiveness [iii] and climate change.

This ‘interim’ technocratic role of the GP is not unimportant but it is missing its larger potential. The present talk is about monitoring, not leading.  A Global Partnership can  best  function as high-level governance, not as a body seeking to meddle in national policy. This is not just a question of respecting national sovereignty, but also of practicality. A ministerial-level GP, for example, could mediate the present logjam on more equitable approaches to managing multilateral institutions or framing pro-poor rules for trade and investment.  However it can offer only limited help at the national level for a Tanzania or a Bolivia, let alone a Brazil, with best practice ideas or by fostering peer reviews. For example, while recognizing that inclusiveness can only be managed within the local (i.e. national) political and social environment, the GP might reasonably advise–and monitor commitments–on improved participation and access to basic social services.  These same broad goals are hopefully being discussed within the emerging Post-2015 framework. A more appropriate Global Partnership role would be to energize that process, as well as protect the weak from being forgotten.

Part of the Global Partnership’s problem is that so far nobody has firmly decided who they are. The ‘who’ answer will largely frame the GP’s  legitimacy and only later the detailed goals.  When we had a global financial crisis, the major economic powers re-wrote the mandate of the G20, formed as an informal forum for Finance Ministers in response to the earlier Asian financial crisis. Overnight, the Leaders’ G20 of today emerged to deal with this critical issue. That same global financial crisis and the associated uncertainties as to the emerging geopolitical order has perhaps left the Global Partnership floating in terms of legitimacy and mandate. The hurried closing hours of the Busan conference in 2011 left unstated where the GP should fit in the global institutional architecture.

Let me suggest some GP answers: 

  • It should ultimately be tied to the G20 structure, ideally one made more inclusive  by adding a rotating g7+ (fragile state) seat.  The Global Partnership would replace the existing Development Ministers’ Working Group with one more focused on strategic development issues rather than announcements of showcase aid projects proposed by G8 members.

  • Membership would comprise Development Ministers for donors or Finance/Planning Ministers for developing partners.  To create a compact forum, country groupings would share a single seat as in existing multilateral fora. Key meetings would also involve representatives of civil society and the private sector.

  • The GP would be a partnership of key but disparate development actors, united to remove global poverty. The GP is needed to modernise an increasingly dated institutional architecture created for a donor world dominated by DAC members.

  • The Partnership will not exist just for Post-2015 work on MDG/SDGs.  In its G20 role it should quickly expand its scope to cover other issues [iv] of importance to the poor and vulnerable such as trade (especially its employment implications), remittances, access to low-cost medicine, standards for social protection, etc.

  • The Global Partnership will monitor its own accountability, including for effective operationalisation of the Post-2015 Agenda as finally agreed.

Whatever the final shape of the Global Partnership, its immediate challenge is to slowly replace a flawed aid co-ordination mechanism, the DAC.  The 2005 Paris Declaration saw the answer in partnerships, driven by policies and goals ‘owned’ by recipient countriesBut evenbest efforts’ have not proved good enough.   Simply adding a few invitees from the Global South to a DAC meeting does not make a partnership. To succeed, traditional donors must ‘walk the talk’ and old Southern suspicions must fade. An effective partnership requires mutual trust and shared goals.  Traditional donors have hesitated to let go (‘accountability’ often became the cover for continuing control), and many developing countries did not have the will or skills to set the agenda. Critically ‘new’ donors from the South have become powerful forces who do not wish to take orders, even advice, from Paris, the DAC’s headquarters.

The Global Partnership’s present tentative status is unfortunate. To be meaningful, it cannot just be an occasional expanded DAC Ministerial. It is no longer even an exclusively donors club, but ultimately a partnership with and for the world’s vulnerable. It needs the focused attention of powerful global actors and an alert civil society to monitor its performance.

These are all big challenges. A key question for Canada is whether we are ready to act creatively. The core issues are not money but politics and, dare one say, even global sovereignty.  Are we ready to share global governance with the disadvantaged to create a more prosperous world for all?  Hard economic logic should say yes, if only to protect our own future as a small but respected nation in this new more competitive and multi-polar world. A first step could be to help create a meaningful and legitimized Global Partnership.

End Notes

[i] Busan, Korea  (2011) was the third in a series of international conferences of donors and recipients, starting with the Paris Declaration (2005) and then Accra (2008) Their common subject was how to deliver aid more effectively.

[ii] Development Assistance Committee of the OECD.

[iii] ‘Inclusiveness’ is a better term than ‘equity’ because it is more heuristic and starts to explain why the vulnerable as individuals or nations are being left behind.

[iv] On many of those topics, there will also need to be a voice for Finance or Trade ministers. This will likely require joint groupings, and maybe finally tough arbitration by G20 Leaders.

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