A broken chain of policy decisions

Development Policy05 Feb 2008Brian Pratt

The IOB evaluation confirms the widespread problem of donors changing policy too often. Hence, whey they look back, it is sometimes hard to assess impact given the broken chain of policy decisions (too many new initiatives, so that nothing is given the chance to show fruit), and the failure to match practice to policy anyway (e.g. Sudan as a major recipient compared with lower allocations for non-partner countries). So policy inconsistency increases over time, both the policy itself and the inconsistency with allocations.

As a second major issue around the slide into general budget support (GBS), it is unclear whether real governance criteria were adhered to, or whether the criteria were ever fully understood and implemented. Behind some of these inconsistencies is the problem the result of tension between foreign policy and development objectives?

I was not sure about the critique of a slide from income-generating investments to social sectors. Does the full report indicate whether this is because of an implicit feeling that Dutch rural development had failed? (Many other donors, including the World Bank, felt that much of their agricultural investment in the 1980s had failed, so this is not a theoretical question.) Or was it because of an implicit assumption (explicit in other countries) that the private sector will feed growth, as it did in Asia, so that development assistance becomes fixed into social sectors such as health and education?

I recall a conversation with ministry officials in which they indicated that they were quite skeptical about general budget support (GBS). But it would seem that they went for it despite their misgivings. Again, was this because of political decisions (in which case was the merger of foreign affairs and development cooperation such a good idea?), or was this due to inertia among civil servants trying to spend their budgets?

I would agree, and I have said elsewhere, that current aid policy does indeed ignore civil society because of the excessive focus on government-to-government relations, and the failure to really deal with governance issues. So what is the response of the Ministry to the failure to engage civil society locally through the mainstream programme, as opposed to its proxy engagement through the co-funded Dutch NGOs?

The large amount spent on humanitarian assistance really makes me wonder where this went, and to whom. Was this really used for humanitarian assistance, or a cover for more budget support, or the political use of the aid programme for other ends? (See notes on Sudan.)

Under the report’s general conclusions, the issues around ownership, etc., undermine many of the current claims for the Paris Declaration and the adherence to harmonization/ownership, just as much as they cast doubt on some of the narrower forms of results-based management and monitoring.