After I dissed the Paris Declaration a few posts ago the kind people at the OECD Insights blog directed my attention to a recent defense of the Dec placed on their site. The defense itself was a response to an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune. Having read the defense I chipped in with my now standard Paris Declaration type comment (currently still awaiting moderation):
August 13, 2010 22:29
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Thanks OECD insights for publishing such a thoughtful defense of the Paris Declaration (PD).
As someone who is a huge fan of the ethos of the Declaration but who is also skeptical of it in practice, I found it useful to hear the case for the PD approach to aid spelled out so strongly.
The trouble with ‘ownership’ is not that it’s the wrong principle, or that it’s incorrect to state that countries will only develop when they own their own development processes. The trouble is that in practice it’s often very hard to distinguish just who the owners ought to be: recipient country political elites? the government?
The answer to this question will certainly be yes if we’re talking about a well-governed functioning democracy (yes because the government itself will effectively be owned by the people). However, the trouble is many (but not all) developing countries are not well-governed functioning democracies. And for those that aren’t, handing ownership of development work to political elites may quite likely be a recipe for: (a) wasted aid and (b) further entrenchment of such elites vis a vis the people that they rule over. (While I’m at it, much the same could be said about the PD principle of partnership.)
None of this is to say that we should invariably revert to donor owned project aid, even in the worst governed countries. What I’m stressing though, is that optimal strategies for aid are strongly dependent on context. Which is something I think isn’t emphasised enough in the PD. Which is why I’m sceptical of it, despite thinking that the ethics it encapsulates are good.
Further, in the case of disasters, there’s a time horizon issue: what might be good practice in the long-hall that is development aid might be bad practice in an emergency. It may be worth accepting some leakage in development aid given to governments if the flip-side is the slow strengthening of government institutions. But disaster aid (and much reconstruction aid) is a completely different kettle of fish – relief needs to be delivered quickly by the most appropriate means, and if that means circumventing the government to save lives, then so be it.
FWIW – I know lamentably little about the Haiti case so my comments here aren’t Haiti specific but rather more general points about the pros and cons of the Paris Declaration.
Only then did I click through to one of the links on the original post – the OECD Monitoring Survey of the Principles for Good International Engagement in Fragile States and Situations.
I have to confess, I was unaware of these (mea culpa – in my defence my brain can only cope with so many principles at any one point in time.) Anyhow, I’m just writing here to say that this set of principles is actually pretty good. Particularly ‘Principle 1: Take context as the starting point’ and ‘Principle 7: Align with local priorities in different ways in different contexts’.
Do these principles ever get read? Do they ever actually guide work on the ground? are they forever lost in the shadow cast by the Paris Declaration itself? I don’t know. I hope not though because as far as principles for aid giving go, they’re not bad at all.