Thursday 28 February 2013

Dili Consensus on Post 2015: progress but questions

“With the right policies, investments and global collective action on challenges beyond our control, we have the potential to build peaceful, vibrant, just, resilient, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies. The post 2015 development framework must help us realise our potential”. 
So said the G7+, a group of countries who have been forging a new way of doing development that actually works in states affected by violence, and all that comes with it, at the culmination of the Dili Conference on the post-2015 development framework this week.

In a communique issued after the conference the G7+ addressed a wide range of shared challenges, over which they noted they had little direct control. Having been joined by Pacific Island countries it was no surprise that climate change got special attention, itself a threat to the very existence of nations such as Nauru, who were there.

But most of their attention was reserved for the way in which development has to change to be relevant, effective and legitimate. And many of the observations they made have relevance far beyond the 1.5 billion people officially classed as living in fragile states.

The relationship between government and the governed was at the heart of this:
“We agreed that good governance is fundamental to the achievement of our goals, and that development progress in our countries, particularly in newly independent countries and those recently emerging from conflict is impeded by weak state capacity.” 
And that:
[The] “…effectiveness of the state and its institutions is critical to achieving national development goals”. 
This is a welcome re-statement of the centrality of how states emerging from war are able to invest in the institutional capacity to manage either localised or national conflict:s over resources, or wider contested visions of the state itself, frequently an unresolved issue even in the case of a military victory by one side over another. One reason why the implementation of the New Deal is so important - but that is strangely absent from the Consensus.

But there was much else on the table. Building on the insight of the World Development Report of 2011 this conference talked about jobs, more jobs and then even more jobs. Economic growth being critical for development, but the equitable spread of that employment being critical to peace with one being indispensable to the other.

Sign at UN post2015 Consultation for Africa: November 2012, Liberia
And there was a warning shot to donors too. Just as the conference re-stated that “business as usual is not an option” they also argued that the partnerships between rich states and poor needs to be just that – a partnership. While they made a very reasonable argument that there were far too many multiple international initiatives, all with different reporting requirements, they also had a more profound message which won’t have gone unnoticed in Western capitals, namely:
“…the importance of corresponding improvements in the policies and practices of many of the developed countries with whom we interact, including in the areas of trade, the regulation of the activities of multinational corporations and the management of aid. We recommend our development partnerships be based on mutual trust rather than conditionality.” 
While the Doha Trade Round, started in 2001 and currently frozen, stands as a monument to the unwillingness of donor countries to accept that the logic of free trade should also apply to their own markets, the specific mention of multinationals is also interesting. Foreign Direct Investment dwarfs aid money in any case, so they are clearly part of the picture. But stories such as those raised recently by Action Aid of tax avoidance by a British firm in Zambia on a grand scale, along with longstanding concerns about the extent to which companies act in ways that may provoke instability suggests that this area needs much more focus. Despite the active involvement of the private sector in the High Level Panel on post 2015 I have not seen much on the subject emerging from those discussions, simply a restatement of the importance of private capital. To coin a phrase, surely the question is “How” as well as “How much”.

On the post 2015 framework itself the Dili Consensus supports the emerging idea of a global set of goals with local targets:
“We support the pursuit of universal aspirational goals at the global level. At the same time, we emphasise that national ownership of the development agenda is imperative. Our national development frameworks must reflect our national priorities and circumstances. They should be aligned with, but not subordinate to global goals”. 
Again this is a welcome reflection of the need to ground approaches in the local context. The fact that the MDGs are unlikely to be met by any conflict affected country illustrates the nonsense of a one-size-fits-all approach. But the danger in proceeding too far down a “national ownership” path without corresponding measures to ensure that citizens can hold governments to account for how they are prioritising what they do with that money – which is conspicuously absent from the Consensus – would be to undermine that state capacity the G7+ argue they need.

In sum, the meeting concluded that the post 2015 framework should seek to address:
“…inclusive economic growth, state effectiveness, peace and justice, …climate change and environmental management.” 
While existing MDG goals on health, education and so forth should continue but be adjusted to be fit for purpose.

A useful meeting, and one which raises a series of important points. You have to hope that they make it into the final draft of the High Level Panel report that will be presented to the UN in April after their final meeting in Bali next month. But most eyes are now on the point at which that baton is passed to the Open Working Group, recently established and now the talk of every official in European Foreign Ministries I've met recently.

To be continued....


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