13 Dec 11

Civil Society Sees Mixed Success at Busan

By Michael Hammer

The Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness took place in Busan from 30th November to 1st December, bringing together over 3,000 delegates from donors, governments and civil society. Amidst the buzz surrounding the event, the high-level delegates, and the elaborate ceremonies (which drew at least two comparisons with the Oscars), what was really achieved?

This is something that we will not know for a while, perhaps for years, according to Jonathan Glennie at the Guardian. The fact is, while Busan has charted new territory in its acknowledgement of the complexities and diverse nature of actors involved in the modern aid and development infrastructure, there is little in the outcome of the conference that can be counted as perceptible progress yet.

Consider the case of civil society participating in Busan. The inclusion of civil society as full and equal partners in development at Busan was a milestone- a highly significant step in acknowledging the importance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and the work they do across the world. The Busan outcome document, the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, underscores this with mention of the need to create an enabling environment for civil society , and endorsement of the Open Forum’s Istanbul Principles and International Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness. These relate to some of the key proposals of civil society in the run-up to Busan, and their presence in the outcome document points to the more inclusive direction the High Level Fora are taking.

While these are positive developments that are very supportive of civil society’s work, much more had been expected from Busan. In the Final Civil Society Statement, CSOs had collectively asked for several key points to be addressed, including, amongst others: correcting the failure (mainly on the part of donors) to meet commitments made at Paris and Accra, particularly untying aid and improving transparency and accountability; committing to a rights-based approach to development; and ensuring private sector engagement be accountable and observe international human rights law. As many commentators, including aid expert Owen Barder, NGOs such as Oxfam, and civil society coalitions the Open Forum and BetterAid, have noted, the outcome at Busan fell largely short of any significant commitments on these points. Especially disappointing was the retreat from any time-bound commitments to ensuring the implementation of the Paris Principles, as well as pushing back the creation of a monitoring framework for overseeing implementation of the promises made at Busan to June 2012. Many also felt that a last-minute caveat that makes adherence to the Busan agreement voluntary for emerging donors, undermines the point of a global commitment to making aid more effective.

So while some of civil society’s battles were won at Busan, with significant victories such as Hillary Clinton’s endorsement of the Istanbul Principles and discussions of involving civil society formally in many UN procedures, tangible progress on the ground remains to be seen. As with so many things in the complicated world of development, only time will tell.

 

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