A new international cooperation is needed

Development Policy23 Jun 2010Paul Hassing

Paul Hassing responds to the background article “Identifying obstacles” in the context of the online debate about Dutch development cooperation triggered by the report Less Pretension, More Ambition by the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR).

Paul Hassing is employed by the Ministry of Foreign Affaires since 1991. This contribution is the authors personal opinion and does not reflect in any way government policy

The WRR proposal for bilateral cooperation based on national diagnostics with a broader development perspective is rather revolutionary within Dutch development cooperation. The last substantial change in development policy took place in the beginning of the 1990s when former Minister Pronk launched the concept of poverty alleviation in a world of unequal chances. He highlighted the fact that development is basically a political process and formulated specific thematic priorities that were geared to contribute substantially to poverty alleviation The overall purpose was to buy in a place at the international and national debate. The more debate, the more influence!

All subsequent ministers have followed more or less the the development policy concepts developed during the tenure of Minister Pronk. One could argue that since then more nuances were brought into the debate and policies became more refined. But it was difficult to respond fully to concerns and questions from Dutch society and parliament regarding effectiveness, results and transparency. The annual report on results from development cooperation is only readable and understandable to insiders, for ordinary people it looks like Chinese.

The development sector in The Netherlands (NGO’s, academic world, media, facilitators of the debate, government officials) is structured around this poverty policy and its latest nuances. It is therefore not surprising that the WRR report is heavily criticised for arguing that the concept of development should be broadened from poverty alleviation to development , based on a holistic national diagnosis. The Broker debate on and subsequent meetings concentrated on issues such as the concept of development perceived as too narrow (economic growth and productivity) and national scale versus global scale. Some argued that the WRR report has paid little attention on the role of civil society. It is correct that the number of pages on bilateral policy outnumbers the ones on the role of civil society. Particularly the responses of representatives from civil society in the debate emphasized this feeling of being marginalised or their roles not been looked at properly. However, I would like to defend the WRR report and would argue that the quality of arguments can and should not be replaced by the quantity in the number of pages. The WRR report is not supposed to provide solutions but a more ambitious concept for development.

The global scale is used by different authors in different ways. Some see it as a global analysis of development aid or development at the scale of a continent (Africa), while others see it as an analysis of global goods or bads and that these global goods should be part of the analysis for development cooperation. These arguments seem to ignore that a bilateral policy is first and foremost guided by national governments, policy priorities and their legitimacy to national stakeholders and parliaments. Many national policies and priorities of low income countries are poorly guided by an international context with the exception, of course, of large countries and emerging markets like China and India.

Will the integration of the improved management of global public goods into bilateral policies be the right political and moral approach? The sustainability of the global commons is of common interest. It often implies that the donor will receive something in return for their support, something of value: emission reductions, conservation of species and ecosystems, regional (human) safety, etc. The OECD definition of Official Development Assistance (ODA) implies that support is provided on a non concessional basis. One could argue that global goods are concessional, and that there is an exchange of goods to the benefit of at least two parties. It therefore does not qualify as ODA. Would the global scale of common goods not imply to define another type of cooperation that includes these mutual benefits? Are we perhaps at the very point of enriching international cooperation with the notion of Official Global Assistance (OGA), based on a mutual exchange of global benefits?

Policy recommendation

Over the course of the last 15 years the development world has adopted several global concepts and processes (globalisation, structural adjustment, the Washington consensus) and acted accordingly. But were these global processes duly discussed and negotiated with developing countries? If not, why were they imposed on them? Have these global processes changed development policy significantly in favour of pro-poor development? Would it not be wise to be more modest with global concepts for development? And concentrate more on political entities such as national governments and national priorities? Is this not what the WRR report is proposing? Focus on national approach and national accountability. Some contributors argue that the regional and global perspectives should be incorporated. Of course they should be incorporated. But would a national diagnostic not deal with that: the relation of a country in a regional perspective (the hub aspect) and even broader. Some suggest a contradiction in national diagnostics between a mechanical analysis and a multidimensional process. The first one more technical and the second more political. There can only be one answer to this assumed contradiction: both are part of a national diagnostic, one does not exclude the other. And should both approaches be tackled by NLAID?

The discussion on of the management of global public goods has so far also concentrated on funding improved management of global goods through the traditional development aid. But common global goods do not qualify for ODA because of mutual political and economic benefits. Should global goods not be priced at the end and become part of the economic equation. Would it not be more appropriate to develop a new kind of international cooperation for the global common goods: Official Global Assistance (OGA)?

The WRR report rightly points out that the intellectual debate on development policies has been rather poor over the last 15 years. The Netherlands have lost its intellectual and political leadership position in this field. The debate has concentrated on effectiveness and transparency, on justifying the contribution to the quantitative results of the Millennium Development Goals.

There are very few Dutch studies on the role of civil society and the role of Dutch NGO’s. The debate on Primary Health Care has been overruled by such specific issues like HIV/Aids and bird flue. There has been no Dutch participation at the Copenhagen consensus organised by Lomborg. The Nuffic programme has apparently not provided the intellectual challenges that one might have expected. It seems that the sector has only refined the positions developed in the early 1990s, instead of keeping abreast of the global changes and new developments since then. A new research and development (R&D)programme should be designed based on an EU cooperation and the participation of development countries institutions based on the concept of knowledge networks. The present Nuffic programme should be revamped in this light.

The international political framework for The Netherlands is the EU. That is our geographical and political partner. The consequence for a new development cooperation policy would therefore be to coordinate much more actively within this political block than is done at the moment. After all, the EU is the largest donor of development aid. Would it not be logical for EU member states to specialise on certain themes, as the WRR report is suggesting? In more policy terms it would mean that The Netherlands assumes the responsibility for a certain theme and would look for building a network within the EU, strengthened with partners from all over the world. Such a thematic network would not be part of a bilateral policy. It would then lead again to another thematic bias in bilateral cooperation. ACP countries could request assistance form this network. It would be an advisory body and not an implanting one. Funding of this network would be at the expense of The Netherlands. The most likely thematic network where The Netherlands hold an international reputation, would be water or more recently Defence, Diplomacy and Development (3 D’s) in fragile states. Such a network could be managed by NLAID.