Donors have many options to hold recipients to account and the most effective is probably to withhold the disbursement of aid monies. Recipients are in a much weaker position when donors do not deliver what they pledged to, or attach conditions to disbursements for aid dependent countries. Mutual accountability has therefore been the focal issue of the United Nations Development Cooperation Forum’s (DCF) High-Level Symposium which took place in Vienna on 12-13 of November.
The Vienna Symposium reflected the DCF’s strive for inclusiveness. In addition to the well-represented Southern governments, and the not so well-represented Northern governments (France and Germany were totally absent), parliamentarians and CSOs were invited to join to give panel presentations and participate actively in discussions. The Eurodad Secretariat and members such as ActionAid, Trocaire and the Austrian KOO made extensive use of these opportunities.
Sha Zukang, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, opened the Symposium by emphasizing that “the concept of mutual accountability offers a way for programme countries to hold donor countries to account on the commitments they have voluntarily undertaken in the area of development cooperation and of aid in particular. At present, aid relations are asymmetrical and in favour of donor countries.” Addressing this imbalance aims to increase the predictability of aid, reduce conditionalities, and ultimately increase the impact of aid on achieving internationally agreed development goals.
The following debates on mutual accountability were based on the lead presentation on the background study “Enhancing Mutual Accountability and Transparency in Development Cooperation” which was prepared for the Vienna Symposium. The study states that “mutual accountability remains the least understood element of the aid effectiveness agenda”, and analyses the current mutual accountability mechanism at the global, regional and national level. Examples for existing mechanisms at the global or regional level are for example, the OECD’s and UN ECA’s Mutual Review of Development Effectiveness between Africa and the donor community, or the DAC peer reviews.
The study identifies significant gaps in the mutual accountability architectures and finds serious shortcomings, in particular the insufficient involvement of Southern governments, parliamentarians and CSOs in existing mechanisms. But when it comes to proposals for improvement, the paper is quite weak and “incremental” - it lacks persuasive and far-reaching recommendations for filling the gaps and addressing the current imbalances.
Beyond mutual accountability, the Symposium also held initial debates on aid transparency, South-South cooperation, and policy coherence for development, issues the DCF will discuss in more detail at following Symposiums. Concerning the latter, parliamentarians raised the interesting point that there might be a positive correlation between the level of conditionality heavy aid a country receives, and the scale of financial outflows and capital flight. Eurodad made clear that tackling capital flight and tax havens needs to be a part of the policy coherence for development agenda and called on the DCF to give a new impetus to the old plans of upgrading the UN tax committee to an intergovernmental body.
The Vienna Symposium was the first of three preparatory meetings for the second high-level DCF which will take place in July 2010 in New York.