MAJOR HIGHLIGHTS BY DALITSO KUBALASA
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).