A new structure is urgently needed inclusive of NGOs and civil society

Development Policy23 Jun 2010Paul Hassing

Paul Hassing responds to the background article “Building a new structure” 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 conception of a new institutional structure for development cooperation should have as point of departure an analysis of the international power structure. A discussion on such a new institutional structure is the only important omissions of the WRR report.

The debate on restructuring the UN system has been ongoing for years now, without any tangible result. The 2009 paper to Parliament on this issue does not hold a new vision on the multilateral structure. The paper is mainly referring to improved accountability and results to be produced by the UN system. The power block that is most likely to suit Dutch interests is first and foremost the EU. The present financial and economic crisis proves this point once again. Only when it comes to security and military issues are NATO and the US still the dominating partners for us. The EU is a partner for security matters, albeit in a limited sense only. This might well change over the next two decades, but much will depend on the position of Germany in this. Much of the multilateral support provided by The Netherlands is presently based on the UN system and its various agencies as well as the Bretton Woods institutions. It is the heritage of a time before the EU has become a political entity.

In the new multipolar world there is an urgent need to reconsider the functions and roles of multilateral institutions in general. The EU is one of the multipolar blocks and it is therefore logical that development policy should be coordinated within an EU context. The EU political model corresponds to our model: a balance between the public role and private interests, an advocacy and transparency role for civil society and free access to information. This is different from the American/ World Bank political model that assumes a maximum role of the private sector and a minimum role of the public sector. The civil society is therefore charity, to control the government and to help develop markets. Of course, a Bush or Obama administration makes a difference but the next administration might well be a Republican administration again. Over a longer period of 10 to 20 years the American political model does not necessarily meet our (EU) interests any longer.

The Broker report suggests that the multilateral system needs to be reinforced. But what is meant by reinforcement: larger political mandate, more funding, more coordination? Are interests best served by a consensus negotiating model? Will a continuing monopoly of nation states be feasible, while other players with substantial resources and different interests have come to the international scene: large businesses, international NGO’s and the media with rapid information dissemination (internet).

The overarching conclusion is that the international aid architecture has to be restructured so as to better reflect the shift in power relations, the need to manage global public goods, stronger policy coherence, human security (3D’s) in fragile states and the open access to information. Some authors call this the Dutch globalisation agenda and urge to increase the mandate of the Minister of Development Cooperation accordingly.

A restructured aid architecture should also account for a new role of civil society and NGO’s. The Dutch government channels funding to strengthen civil society in developing countries through Dutch NGOs. There have good reasons for this model. However, the question is whether this model is still valid and effective. Many Southern NGO’s are well capable to manage their programmes and funding, their accountancy and management are well developed by now. These NGO’s have the capabilities to develop their own proposals for interventions. They are well placed to support their civil society and distribute funds and subsidies directly, without the intermediation of Northern NGOs. It could be argued whether or not the national recipient governments should play a more active role in designing the support to their national civil society; this may favour the national democratisation process and indentity. And would this not help the national governments to gain more national legitimacy than if donor governments provided direct funding to their civil society organisations? Would it not make sense that results achieved through the support provided to civil society be claimed by the organisations and their national governments?

Policy recommendations

A new institutional development structure is urgently needed. Most contributors agree the need for change. But there is little agreement over how to do this. It would be a small revolution to suggest that the role of the UN and the development banks should be reconsidered. There is little added value by implementing projects and programmes by the UN system when we compare it to a coordinated EU implementation approach. The same applies to the World Bank and the regional banks. In principle they have similar investment policies, similar know how and compete for scarce lending. The transaction costs for delivering these loans with a headquarter in Washington are high if compared to the regional banks. What is the logic for having two banks of last resort for Africa and some sub regional African development banks?

A multipolar world needs new global negotiation and information structures. Many of the ongoing crises were not tackled because the present institutions are occupied with the current delivery model based on individual developing countries. They have become part and parcel of the present development system that prevents them from analysing, anticipating and tackling global trends independently. The new role of the multilateral system could be to bring the multipolar world together, discuss possible solutions and consistency, collect and analyse information and assist countries in policy reforms on an advisory basis. A mode has to be developed where new players (private sector, civil society) are represented that have a capability to contribute to global governance and are not limited by national identities.

A new civil society model is also urgently needed. National governments have to take the lead in supporting their civil society as an instrument to strengthen democratisation and increase legitimacy. Legitimacy, accountability and transparency of governments have to be built at national level. Donors should consider funding the government directly for civil society participation in the achievement of national development priorities.

Many authors agree that the capabilities and knowledge of the Department for International Development (DGIS) of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the embassies to manage the development process has been weakened over the last 15 years and has arrived at a critical intellectual level. Much is due to the newly formulated personnel policy (1996) of the Ministry of Foreign Affaires: staff should be generalists, have a maximum of flexibility with regular frequent replacement, and be geared to serve in the capacity of a diplomatic service. Specific technical expertise and specialisation in aspects of development cooperation is seen as counterproductive to this type of personnel policy. It is unlikely that this personnel policy will changes, only to accommodate new requirements for development cooperation. Therefore, a specialised and fully dedicated NLAID organisation with specialised development personnel and a suitable personnel policy is regarded as the solution to counter the trend of rapidly disappearing development expertise within the Ministry. NLAID should be a combination of national bureaus in developing countries and a headquarter in The Netherlands. NLAID should coordinate their national bureaus with other EU agencies in the field. The main responsibilities are implementing Dutch development policies (bilateral, multilateral, global). The Minister for Development Cooperation should be supported by a (small) team of strategic staff to assist in policy development, implementing national policy coherence and follow up international global sustainability policy processes. The personnel for the Minister should be recruited from the Ministry of Foreign Affaires or temporarily recruited from NLAID.