Ahead of an international conference this week to reform aid, a battle is emerging over the future direction of aid and development. The High Level Forum (HLF) on Aid Effectiveness – in Accra, Ghana, from 2 to 4 September – is part of a process that began three years ago in Paris to make aid more effective and give developing countries more control. Representatives of donors and recipient governments are meeting today to reach consensus on a communiqué (the Accra Agenda for Action). But differences risk derailing much-needed aid reform.
“Urgent action is needed at Accra but progress in raising the bar is being blocked. While some countries are willing to move ahead in setting more aggressive targets, others, including the US and Japan, are dragging their feet,” said Oxfam International head of delegation Robert Fox. “Many donors want changes that will hand a lot more power, a lot more quickly, to effective developing country governments. The US and Japanese governments don’t. This isn’t just a food-fight between bureaucrats. Until you solve the political question of who should shape development, you cannot solve the problems of poverty and inequality.”
An OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) survey on progress in reforming aid, to be released this week, shows that where recipient governments have improved their management of aid, donors have still not kept their commitments to give them more control and improve aid efficiency. Rich countries’ insistence on using separate procedures to manage aid wastes both time and money, said Oxfam. In Mozambique, for instance, donors were spending a staggering $350m a year on 3,500 technical consultants, more than four times the annual salaries of 100,000 Mozambican public-sector workers. “One of the best ways to support developing countries that are working hard to reduce poverty is to channel funds directly to their governments – yet right now, a tiny proportion of global aid is delivered in this way. Recent reviews of aid to governments in Rwanda, India and Zambia show that it is helping get many more children into school and assuring many more people get proper healthcare when they are sick. Governments need direct aid to pay for the salaries and training of millions more teachers and health workers,” said Robert Fox.