Global Partnership Ministerial in Mexico City

There is a natural link between the post-2015 United Nations development goals process and the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation ministerial meeting that will take place in Mexico City, April 15-16. The efforts are complementary, but they are being pursued on separate tracks and with a different set of actors. Those attending the ministerial meeting in Mexico are charged directly with implementing the development agenda. They are ministers of development, planning or finance, and civil society and private sector representatives engaged in development cooperation. Their common purpose has had the effect of reducing the political tension that often accompanies other international meetings. Every effort should be made to transfer this intangible goodwill to the debate surrounding the post-2015 global development goals.

The UN Debate over Goals

The post-2015 development goals continue to be hotly debated by foreign ministry representatives in New York and in capitals around the world. Last year, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon set the stage for the debate by creating a high-level panel (HLP) of political leaders, including three heads of government who chaired the group. The HLP made what is thus far the most important contribution to the debate. The panel’s diverse membership reaffirmed the contribution of the original eight Millennium Development Goals, improved and added to the list, and recommended a multi-layered approach that placed primary responsibility at the country level. The panel tackled the inequality issue by recommending that results measurement always include the lowest quadrant of the population. The report touched the most important of the bases, from poverty reduction to fragility to gender and the roles of civil society and the private sector.

The political challenge the HLP confronted was immense and predictably criticism was heard just after the report was made public. Some argued that despite the innovative proposal on inequality the issue was not given sufficient attention. Others wanted more comprehensive treatment of gender and environmental issues.

Still, what is remarkable is that a group of very diverse political leaders could achieve full consensus. Not only did they agree, they also performed the remarkable feat of writing a report that did not look like it was drafted by a committee.

This report could well be the high-water mark as the debate among the political factions of the United Nations continues unabated. In the words of one close observer, a lack of trust in New York is causing the debate to descend to a political tussle over poverty—“whose fault is it and who pays?”

The Role of Effectiveness and Accountability

Despite this contentious ideological debate conducted by officials whose knowledge of development cooperation is marginal, there remains cause for optimism. The universal goals for development created at the turn of the millennium have focused the development mission and created an important rationale for increased official development assistance (ODA). It would be difficult to imagine a world with no agreed-upon goals. Accountability in the development field is here to stay, and this is where the Global Partnership’s effectiveness agenda has made its most important contribution.  

This agenda was given a large boost by 162 governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector in Busan, Korea in 2011. The Global Partnership since then has been meeting in the form of a steering committee chaired by Nigerian Finance Minister N’Gozi Okonjo-Iweala, United Kingdom Secretary of State for Development Justine Greening and Indonesian Development Minister Armeda Alisjahbana. These leaders and a committee composed of developing country partners, traditional donors, new providers of “south-south” cooperation, civil society, parliamentarians and the private sector have done the planning for the Mexico ministerial.

The Mexico City meeting is part of a series that started in Rome in 2003. Subsequent meetings in Paris (2005), Accra (2008) and Busan (2011) created an ever-stronger set of principles related to the effectiveness of development interventions. As time has gone on, the donor profile at these meetings has receded as partner nations in the developing world began participating in large numbers and with growing intensity. They now fully embrace concepts initially conceived of in Paris in 2005, such as ownership, mutual accountability, transparency and results measurement. In Busan, the emerging economies (Brazil, China and India in particular)—new providers of assistance in the south-south context—came to the table and agreed on “shared principles.” Civil society organized as never before and, along with representatives of the private sector, became more than just activists. They became active members of the negotiation team for the Busan outcome document.

Institutionalizing Trust

Trust is not an easy commodity to create on the international stage and it has taken over a decade of intense work to create the partnership that is the basis for the success of this forum. It would be premature to suggest that the Global Partnership has been permanently institutionalized, but the Mexico ministerial will be a good first test of that proposition.

There will be voices heard at the UN in New York from member state representatives reflecting foreign ministry views that the Global Partnership is not legitimate as it is not a UN institution. They are technically correct. The Global Partnership was originally conceived by those OECD donors who were members of the Development Assistance Committee. However, a concerted effort was made to overcome the legalities and to produce an entity that was widely accepted. the partnership’s earlier meetings were planned by a working group made up of key partners, including the UN, the World Bank, partner countries, civil society, the private sector and developing country governments. In the end game leading to Busan, new providers such as Brazil, China and India participated in the drafting of the outcome document. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is now part of the secretariat for the Partnership. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark were both in Busan and both are scheduled to be in Mexico City as well. The legitimacy issue has not thus far constrained participation in any way.

Ministerial Agenda Driven by Partner Countries

The planning for Mexico City has been ambitious and it reflects intense participation by developing country partners. Two of the plenary sessions—domestic resource mobilization and illicit flows—reflect a very healthy trend toward self-sufficiency and away from dependency. Tax revenues comprise a growing proportion of the economies of developing countries. The average tax revenue as a percentage of GDP for low income countries is 13 percent and for middle income countries 22 percent. In developmental states—states whose primary public policy thrust is development—domestic resource mobilization through efficient tax systems is increasing exponentially while ODA is decreasing as a percentage of GDP.

Recapturing illicit flows is a major objective of Nigerian Finance Minister N’Gozi Ojonko-Iweala, a cause she took up initially at the World Bank. In the very first meeting of the steering committee, she said that developing country resources sent by corrupt leaders to Western banks had been estimated at between $3 billion and $4 billion (recent studies indicate that the amount may be twice that). . Domestic banking laws are protecting these ill-gotten gains, and thus the effort to overcome these laws represents an important part of the policy coherence for development challenge.  Some progress has been made in tracking these illicit funds, but gaining the release of these resources would compensate in some small part for the reductions in ODA we have seen in the past three years.

The Mexican government has promoted a session on the particular challenges faced by middle-income countries where poverty remains prevalent. ODA flows to these countries have decreased, but poverty and inequality persist. Many of these governments are both providers and recipients of ODA. While they are increasingly accepting a development-cooperation responsibility, particularly in their region, they remain reluctant to further define their specific responsibilities and understandably concerned that calling attention to their provider role will create internal political issues. They are looking for explicit partnerships with donors that will enable an effective effort to reduce poverty at home.

Working Together Across Old Boundaries

Sessions on the increasing number of triangular projects involving traditional donors, new providers and partner countries reflect a willingness to work beyond the old north-south boundaries. “Knowledge sharing,” a key aspect of an increasingly sophisticated definition of the south-south model, will also be a central topic for the agenda. The ministerial will focus, as did the UN High Level Panel, on “inclusive development,” possibly presenting a new “Framework for Inclusive Development Partnerships” that involves governments at all levels, civil society, the private sector and donors.

These topics reflect the interests and the commitments of partner countries to the Global Partnership. It is this intense participation by the low and middle-income governments that has made participation by the so-called “new providers”—the China, India, Brazil, and others like them—so attractive. This is a forum where traditional donors, new providers and partner countries can discuss their programs, policies and approaches in a non-threatening environment. These countries participate actively not because OECD donors ask them to, but rather because their south-south partners want them there. In this regard, the leadership being shown by Mexico as the host country is vitally important.

Monitoring: The Essential Accountability Tool

One of the most compelling aspects of the ministerial will be the presentation of a monitoring survey that will show evidence of countries’ progress or failure to meet obligations undertaken in the Busan outcome document. This survey has involved about 50 developing governments and the traditional donors, both bilateral and multilateral. The presentation of this survey will provide a platform to call for accelerated progress, a higher level of ambition or for action to overcome bottlenecks where they exist. It will also credit donors who have shown real leadership in both the quantity and the quality of the assistance they provide.

This type of survey is an essential accountability tool. The Busan outcome document represents a voluntary commitment, often called a “soft-law” approach. The only way to assure compliance is to publically shame those who have shirked their responsibilities. And as most of the specific commitments were undertaken at Busan by the traditional donors, a willingness to participate in a survey that could expose deficiencies builds trust among the other partners. That is, of course, if those deficiencies are not too prominent. Certainly, donors will hear many concerns about reductions in the overall amount of ODA.

A very explicit “Guide to the Monitoring Framework of the Global Partnership” has been promulgated by the secretariat and each of the indicators and targets is described in detail. According to those involved in the planning, there will be an effort to extrapolate from the findings and to incorporate evidence related to “inclusive development partnerships,” “results,” “transparency and accountability,” “country ownership” and “fragility and conflict” in the outcome document.

Private Sector Dialogue

Mexico City will also see a major push to confirm the private sector as a partner in development. The premise for this important consensus was built at Busan where over 45 business associations participated to express their willingness to create a new partnership with development agencies and partner governments. Developing nations embraced this initiative. The purpose of this agenda in Mexico will be to break down the silos further to enhance the dialogue among governments, businesses and civil society. This will hopefully lead to further innovations in financing investment, particularly in low-income countries where the risk is highest.

Creating an Even Better Partnership

Lastly, the steering committee chairs will present their ideas for strengthening the relationship between the committee and the key constituencies that make up the partnership. The committee now has 18 members, but there is concern that key constituencies are left out. There is a tentative agreement to expand membership to 24, which will allow positions for Arab donors, another African member and a labor union representative. The three co-chairs will step aside and there seems to be interest in assuring that at least one be replaced by a representative of the next host country. Korea has offered to hold a meeting of an expanded committee each year between ministerials. This will in itself improve communications. The steering committee will be expected to exercise more substantive leadership and to concern itself less with process, a matter better left to the secretariat. What is encouraging is that this discussion goes to the heart of the institutionalization of the Global Partnership.

It was my hope that when the Global Partnership was created it would become the central institution among all others in the development community. The global development challenge will require better coordination among all the constituencies and this forum more than any other has the potential to play that role. There is also a need to strengthen the capacity of the UNDP and OECD secretariat and resources will be needed for that.

Let us hope that the Mexico City ministerial will live up to our aspirations. If it does, it will not only institutionalize a vitally important global forum, it also will positively influence the UN effort to conceive and endorse development goals for 2015 and beyond.