Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN) was one of the panelists on the High Level Panel Discussion taking  place  at the World  Bank  Offices  in Washington  DC, during  the World  Bank  and  IMF  Spring Meetings, represented by its Executive Director, Dalitso Kubalasa. Other panelists included Barbara Lee, Manager  Aid Effectiveness  Unit,  the World  Bank;  Brenda  Killen,  Head  of Aid Effectiveness  Division, OECD  Development   Co-operation   Directorate;   Marisa   Lago,   Assistant   Secretary   for  International Markets  and  Development,  US  Treasury  and  Dr  Samura  Kamara,   Hon.  Minister  for  Finance  and Economic  Development,  Sierra Leone. The discussion  was moderated  by Ray  Offenheiser,  President, Oxfam America.

Among  others,  the discussion  centered  on exploring  what measures  donors can take to ensure that citizens are driving  their own developmental agenda. Key questions touched on examples of how the poverty  reduction  strategy  processes  have  evolved  into  more  inclusive  and  representative  policy processes. Aside from questions around ways and means for ensuring the role of citizens in National Development Strategies, was the issue of Lessons drawn for the forth-coming fourth High Level Aid Effectiveness  Forum in Busan South Korea, in November  2011. It all bordered along what MEJN has always been passionate about for the past 10 years, with regard to championing people-centered policy formulation and implementation the promotion of pro-poor and participatory economic governance.

MEJN’s contribution was therefore largely premised on the fact that, several years after the Paris Declaration  (2005) and the subsequent  2008 Accra Agenda for Action on Aid Effectiveness,  there still continues to be a major blind spot to the development  aid agenda and debate globally. The blind spot was that of ensuring ownership principles fully reflecting the needs, interests and visions of citizens in recipient countries. Our case was that, too often governments and donors have heeded to the call for more  use of country systems; alignment;  harmonisation  and effecting  country ownership to actually mean government-led. The challenge however, still remains ensuring that country ownership actually means government + citizens’ led. At the core of this argument, was the fact that unfortunately governments do not seem to be ‘wholly’ taking heed of the general call for better transparency and accountability, through much publicly accessible policy or budget information (more open budgets). This was reiterated to be, probably the biggest trigger missed out on, in as far as strengthening the much needed strong social accountability system, the pre-requisite, is concerned.

As civil society, we feel that a lot of public policy and budget information  to-date, (including  greater and much more important details about aid) is still held as privileged by governments, for no really apparent reason, apart from (perhaps) the fear of the unknown. A point was made that by holding this public information  away from citizens, who are the rights bearers, voters and masters, governments (who  are  duty  bearers),  miss  out  on  a very  big  opportunity  of further  enriching  their  public  policy process feedback loops. Governments also deny the citizens the chance of contributing towards shaping their own destiny, by not letting them develop interest and confidence through the information, skills and legitimacy  they have, to aggregate,  articulate  and voice out their sole needs and aspirations  for government to easily and better provide for them. Governments also therefore, indirectly deny them of an  incentive  to  play  their  expected  roles  of  following  up  on  the  implementation,  monitoring  and evaluation of all planned policy intervention, to ensure for the maximum quality service delivery.

As a pro-poor and pro-participatory economic governance advocate, we strongly pushed for belief and conviction in the need for better public access to information on public policy, budgets and aid. We underscored the huge benefits underlying such a move, in that it would in the long run help put in place a robust  balancing  act, between  the need for stronger  country  systems  and for reciprocal  and even much  stronger  social  accountability  systems,  which  should  usher  in  the  much-needed  checks  and balances at all levels. This was also touted to be the only way we will be able to build the much needed and much stronger culture of ownership, through the expected/needed conducive environment for moulding better and active citizens. Citizens who should be better motivated to get more dynamic and involved; yielding better transparency  and accountability  at all levels, which will ultimately  lead into better public finance management, and much more effective budgets and aid.

It was underscored  that better quality service delivery  and ultimately  the maximum  value for money expected  by it all will be among the biggest rewards  ever, as it will obviously  outweigh  the current
‘fear  of  the  unknown’  tipping  the  balance  in  favor  of  closed  budgets  and  lacking  access  to  public
information. Citizens will ultimately also have better and growing levels of trust for their governments, registered through the better and people-centered service delivery. This, it was emphasized, would therefore mean the prospect of more votes (of confidence) for the government in the subsequent election(s), because the government will have been responsive to most of the needs of the people. Most importantly,  it will have also achieved the historic democratic  ownership,  by making the citizens feel part and parcel of their own destiny.

Recommendations were then made for the ‘Road to Busan’ to focus on bringing back more and better dialogue between governments, donors and citizens/civil society, aside from having better indicators integrated in the aid effectiveness  agenda. These were proposed to go beyond Aid, and to also cover all other significant sources of revenue by governments at all levels. At the core of this, was the urgent call for continued support towards the role of civil society, as they scale the daunting task of building the missing  link in the aid architecture  agenda,  through  inspiring  and empowering  citizens  to be in the driving seat of their development agenda. Proposals were also made for more attention, as a primary purpose in the Aid Effectiveness agenda for Busan, towards doing everything possible in getting the Government-Citizen compact that is slowly becoming non-existent, as we all finally seek to get the balancing  act right between the global, national and local level engagement  for aid effectiveness.

The  Discussion  also  noted  the  key  rhetoric  coming  from  several  players  in  the  (particularly   the sentiments  by the World Bank President) at the opening of the WB and IMF Spring Meetings for 2011. His speech was, among others, noted as ‘revealing’ rhetoric from the World Bank, which reportedly touched on the respective roles by the World Bank, Citizens (and Civil Society) as well as Governments versus  the issue  of understanding  ‘broad-based  partnership  and ownership’.    The  panel,  thereafter, noted that PRSPs and other subsequent National Development Plans continue to present an interesting Case Study, both from their impressions and experiences, and most importantly with key lessons out of this evolutionary policy process. The discussion then centered on the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4), scheduled for November 2011 in South Korea. Emphasis was placed on this forum, as a moment when donors and country governments should comprehensively and jointly reflect on how well   (or badly)   they   have   met   their   commitments, towards   putting   ownership   principles   into development practice since Paris (2005) and Accra (2008).

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