Building a new structure – Institutional architecture for global development

Development Policy20 Apr 2010The Broker

The discussion on a new global development architecture is still in its infancy. Some questions and points for discussion include the following:

  • What should a Dutch ‘globalization agenda’ include?
  • How do we safeguard the interests of the world’s poor and powerless?
  • A distinction must be made between global public goods and the much more controversial and political issue of coherence for development
  • An overview of global public goods is needed, based on:
    • What kinds of global public goods can be distinguished?
    • Which ones should be given priority, based on what criteria and whose interests? Should they include only technical topics like climate and water, or also human rights and global security, for example?
    • What mechanisms (traditional and more innovative) are available to manage these global public goods? What are the pros and cons of the current multilateral system?
    • How do we finance the different global public goods?
  • Concerning policy coherence for development (PCD):
    • What policy fields should be part of PCD? And what about PCD at other levels, such as businesses, society and individual civilians and consumers?
    • How do we handle PCD – at a ministerial level, by creating ‘bridgeheads’, or in more political terms? Is coherence technically possible, or should the development sector increase its efforts to push for more coherence?
  • The following considerations should be taken into account regarding new ministerial configurations
    • Is a stronger minister for global development or for global sustainable development needed, or one for global development, environment and security? What should her or his areas of competence be? Should this new minister be responsible for all aspects of this much broader portfolio, or should other ministries still handle their own international affairs? And what would be the relationship between the new minister and the minister of foreign affairs?
    • Should there be a separate council for policy coherence, and if so, should it be located in the Ministry of General Affairs under the prime minister?
    • How would the Dutch embassies and/or NLAID country offices fit into this picture? Would they be an integral part of a global development strategy, or would the separate offices focus solely on the delivery of aid?

In its report the WRR makes a number of proposals for reorganizing Dutch government institutions involved in development and other elements of foreign policy. In particular, the Council proposed to establish NLAID, a new agency with country offices, in response to the need for Dutch development aid to be ‘more country-specific’. Elsewhere, however, the WRR also argued that the Netherlands needs to adopt a ‘broader perspective’ (another pillar of the report), but without recommending a new institutional architecture for global policies, despite the major changes that have taken place in this respect in recent decades.

Before examining the proposed NLAID, it is perhaps appropriate first to look in more detail at the institutional consequences of taking a global view. Shobha Raghuram suggests that we ‘first get the political and social world view right through public debates that include all agencies who have been working in the development sector. Only after such debates should we attempt to frame appropriate structural reforms’.

Global governance (including new ways of managing global public goods), policy coherence and building up a global civil society are the three pillars of what can be described as global development. But what does this mean in practical terms? How must Dutch government institutions – and those of other bilateral and multilateral donors – be organized to enable this threefold approach to global development? How can national and international civil society organizations link up to strengthen each other’s efforts? In other words, what new architecture will be needed? Most important, adopting such a global view may mean that the primary focus on the needs of the poor and excluded may be lost, so how do we avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water? After all, that (and not the question of whether this should be done via services or support, which are referred to as ‘palliative’ measures) appears to many to be the most important reason for retaining poverty reduction as the main objective of development policy and ensuring that it does not fall through the cracks in a global development policy.

The fear that the interests of the least fortunate will be suppressed in the wider power struggle is not unrealistic. The greater the need to tackle issues at a global level, the more individuals ‘on the ground’ are likely to be set adrift. However much it is necessary to acknowledge the inherent political and discordant nature of development and progress, this also implies by definition a risk that those without power draw the short straw. Certainly, if moral motives were to be assigned less weight, goals such as justice or redistribution would slide down the list of priorities.

Such a risk is inherent in the WRR’s appeal for action to draw up a Dutch ‘globalization agenda’, including ‘an analysis of Dutch interests at global level, and a strategy to safeguard global public goods’. The Council calls for an assessment of direct Dutch interests and the collective interest. It refers to the interests of developing countries as part and parcel of global public goods, but not explicitly to the interests of the poor in those countries. Incidentally, this does not detract from the fact that such a broad approach – determining the position of the Netherlands with respect to the global – has to be the focus from the outset when reflecting on a new architecture for a broader foreign policy. Moreover, a clear distinction has to be made between the institutional interpretation, which has to be more or less neutral, and the specific political interpretation that global development policy then acquires (see the political projects in ‘Going global’).

Meine Pieter van Dijk offers a series of questions for the debate on the globalization agenda. He recommends that we should not conduct the discussion in the usual terms – poverty reduction or not – but that we examine how we ‘can give the countries that really need aid an opportunity in the global economy, without losing sight of our own interest in a clean and safe world’.

Global public goods

In the case of global public goods, what is important is, in principle, the collective (worldwide or regional) interest, which may well conflict with certain short- and long-term interests of certain actors (governments, as well as NGOs, trade unions or businesses). Of course, the global environment is the clearest example of this.

Another example of a global public good is human rights, or an even broader initiative that could grow into global constitutionalism. Powerful countries have unilaterally decided that only a part of the internationally agreed human rights agenda has priority: civil and political rights. In the words of Shobha Raghuram: ‘The major rights recognized in two covenants of 1966, namely, the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the one on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, virtually span the tangible and intangible essence and material rights of human beings. It is important to retain this in discussions regarding the importance of economic growth. In international assistance, the development enterprise, when technical in nature, commands massive financial resources for the entire international community, whereas human rights, governance and institution-building at the grassroots level, all deeply political in nature, remained contested and marginalized. This needs to change; but it is not so easy, in international development assistance, given the issues of sovereignty of elected governments in countries and the need to respect their sovereignty. This is where the ratification of governments to the UN treaties becomes useful. Ensuring compliance is part of reinforcing the global public goods framework. For this, international CSOs and social movements are well placed to work on these issues at the field level.’

Any detailed strategy must distinguish between the different kinds of public goods. The WRR identifies those ‘from which non-payers also benefit’ (such as climate policy), ‘weakest link’ goods (such as combating infectious diseases) and ‘club’ goods, from which only a select group benefit (such as communication satellites). In the case of global public goods it is necessary to focus on reinforcing the multilateral system – the WRR rightly states that critical reflection is needed – on creating new global mechanisms, such as a ‘socio-economic security council’ and forms of Earth Systems governance, or more ad hoc solutions such as the creation of networks around certain issues.

‘The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is a financial instrument created to deal with global environment problems, following the guidance of multilateral environmental agreements on climate change, biodiversity, chemicals and desertification.’

Niels Röling writes about how the Netherlands missed an opportunity when it refused to take part in the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD): ‘The Netherlands Directorate-General of Development Cooperation (DGIS) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality’s (LNV) argument was that “we no longer have to talk about it, we know all about it by now”. The IAASTD was a pioneering exercise that was eventually signed by almost 60 countries, including China, India, Brazil, Germany, France, the UK, Sweden, Russia and numerous developing countries, in Johannesburg in April 2008. Canada, Australia and the US (with Bush still at the helm) were present but did not sign because they regarded it as a threat to their businesses and free trade.’

Global governance should be viewed in a way that better reflects new ideas and practices, writes Janne Nijman: ‘Without exploring the “global network” dimension … “global governance” becomes too poor a concept. Please note: I do not mean inter-state or inter-governmental networks, but non-governmental or hybrid global networks … in which different actors participate for the unique contribution they can make to an issue, or to (an aspect of) the protection of a global common good. Think, for instance, of a global network around sustainable energy in which energy (distribution) companies participate together with academics, NGOs, perhaps even international and state agencies. Why not break with the old, statist approach and examine the possibility of supporting global networks – in which different types of actors from both developing and developed countries participate – in their attempts to work together, to exchange expertise and best practices, and to contribute to global problem-solving. Networks of farmers’ organizations from developing and developed countries, or cities cooperating in global networks on human rights issues or infrastructural projects (see the special report on city networks, The Broker 17); networks of judges (International Association of Judges) and prosecutors (International Association of Prosecutors) already exist.’

Several contributors comment on the fact that the WRR pays scant attention to the role of the World Bank and other multilateral bodies, although the WRR does criticize the knowledge monopoly of the World Bank and even proposes setting up regional ‘world banks’ to create more ‘pluriformity’ (BerendsenBoxWillems).

“In the WRR rapport, policy related to multilateral development cooperation is not given sufficient attention and does not do justice to its importance.”
“By forgoing a solid analysis of the development of multilateral institutions and policies on the one hand, and civilateral ones (cooperation among civil society actors) on the other, it bypasses two formidable aid and cooperation channels. The multilateral channel lies at the origin of Dutch aid (in 1949) and the civilateral one is an outstanding contribution to the world of international cooperation (as of the 1960s).”

The development sector must have a clear vision of the Dutch strategy with regard to the multilateral system. For example, would traditional Dutch Atlanticism – the Netherlands as the bridgehead to the UK and the US – still have the highest priority in a multipolar world? Perhaps in terms of international security, but does the same apply to global development?

Leon Willems is critical of the ‘strategic communications’ framework that ‘sells antiterrorist objectives’ with a hint of development aid and human diplomacy. Willems writes that as a result of such a framework, in Helmand province, Afghanistan, DFID stopped funding a local newspaper because it published an article criticizing British soldiers for kicking in the doors of civilians. USAID has imposed binding restrictions on media development NGOs reporting from conflict zones.

And is it not the US – in cahoots with China – that is frustrating far-reaching climate agreements? The WRR notes that the Netherlands is trying its best to acquire a seat at the G20, for example, but ‘in the longer term that approach would seem to be untenable’. According to the WRR, four themes apply in this context: the composition of international committees; the multilateral coherence of economic and social policy; the relationship between global and regional coordination mechanisms; and space for diversity and plurality. Elsewhere, the Council contends that as far as Dutch policy is concerned, the aim is to choose ‘strategic global public goods’ with which to safeguard the development dimension. In this, five elements are of interest: scale (achieving a balance between national, regional and global public goods); the role of the Netherlands as a catalyst; new financing mechanisms (see box ‘Financing’); accountability for choices that are made; and a coordination point where priorities can be established.

All of these aspects need to be discussed when structuring a new global development policy and when negotiating which civil society organizations and which players in the development sector should become actively involved (this also pertains, for example, to the next WRR report on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its policies).


The WRR report prompted some fairly predictable responses on whether or not the Dutch government should hold on to the international ODA target of 0.7% of GDP. We don’t want to revive this discussion but do believe attention needs to be paid to how a future focus on global public goods is to be financed.

Hans Opschoor believes that, in any event, ODA funds should not be used: ‘… programmes are needed in the area of global public goods – with an associated flow of funding that we can label as “official global public goods finance” (OGPGF).’ That would suggest that, in fact, more than 0.7% – or 0.8% if you include current international environment policy expenditure – has to be spent on the broad area of foreign policy and therefore on global development as a whole.

‘Aid has to be distinguished from the financing of global public goods’, writes Shobha Raghuram, referring to a standard work by Kaul et al. ‘A clear framework has to be drawn up wherein aid is for poverty eradication, without self-interest, in developing countries; and public finances have to be set aside for both inward-oriented cooperation, which harmonizes national policies on public finance for global public goods, and outward-oriented cooperation, which makes provisions for joint fiscal incentives at the international level.’

Rob D. van den Berg asserts that, contrary to what the WRR says, the costs of global public goods certainly can be calculated. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) (where Van den Berg works) has done just this: ‘We have gathered reputable calculations for the costs associated with the specific issues which the GEF confronts: climate change, loss of biodiversity, reducing chemicals in our environment and ensuring better “services” from our environment (such as clean water, air to breathe and food produced in a sustainable way). We concluded that what is needed is an order of magnitude higher than what is currently available through international cooperation (including and beyond the GEF) … if we follow the catalytic model, we can generate sufficient funds to tackle these problems, on a scale that will make a difference.’

Policy coherence for development

There is a fundamental difference between policies to safeguard global public goods and policy coherence, where the focus is not on the collective interest, but on opposing interests. Here, there are often contradictions within (donor) countries and thus within Europe, as well as between different sectors, population groups and grassroots supporters. The issue of policy coherence is therefore politically highly sensitive. That is also why, despite being a dominant theme and a priority for successive development ministers over the past two decades, it has never really been a success. The approach has always been fairly technical, based on negotiations between civil servants from various ministries in search of win–win situations, for fear of losing political support.

The WRR has also looked for an official solution, but argues that policy coherence must be implemented at a more ‘political-strategic’ rather than operational level. The Council proposes setting up a ‘bridgehead’ for development coherence within each relevant ministry, ‘with a coordinating role for a strong unit at Foreign Affairs’. But Willemijn Verkoren fears that this proposal does not go far enough, because too little attention is paid to its political nature. ‘The attempts to create more coherence are impeded by fundamental political conflicts of interest. The report … provides a number of poignant examples of Dutch interests that are contradictory to development aims: the trade in illegally cut wood, medicines, migration, military export credits and weapons. Another example could be the ‘fragile states’ agenda … in which the (security) interests of rich countries often take precedence over development priorities. Policy coherence is then treated as a purely technical issue.’

Herman Mulder also thinks that the WRR should have gone further. Noting that the term ‘coherence‘ is limited to the public sector, Mulder feels the report ought to have been more ambitious with regard to the world of business. ‘The need and enormous potential of the “green economy” is not referred to. Neither are international standards and values for the international business community …. The need for transparency is mentioned only in passing. Besides the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) (for business reports relating to non-financial aspects), more attention should be paid to product certification for development-relevant products (e.g. coffee, tea, cocoa, palm oil, sugar, rice).’

The WRR proposes a practical way to increase coherence, in the form of ‘development impact reports’, similar to environmental impact reports. Several contributors applauded the suggestion that the development impacts of each intended policy measure be assessed and published. But other instruments could also be used. Shobha Raghuram suggests that development actors need sharper institutional ‘teeth’, and that more ‘openness in government’ is required in order to examine whether, for example, trade practices may have promoted and supported inequalities and poverty elsewhere.

With regard to policy coherence for development, the WRR asserts that what is taking place is ‘a search process, here and elsewhere’. However, coherence has been discussed for decades, so the search process ought to focus on the question of why it never got off the ground. Perhaps we are now paying the price for the fact that there is only limited political pressure from society, and from development organizations. The public are unfamiliar with the political and socio-economic conflicts of interest that lie behind the term coherence; instead they have been inundated with information about the Millennium Development Goals, for example, or with campaigns by charities to provide immediate assistance to poor people affected by war or disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti, the Asian tsunami or the conflict in Darfur.

Besides improving technical coherence at the official level, stronger social movements are needed in the Netherlands to increase political pressure for real coherence. This would also be in line with the WRR vision that NGOs should function more as government watchdogs.

Extending this line of reasoning, one could argue that since development aid can act as a catalyst, more investment is needed to broaden political support for coherence. Tom van der Lee believes that ‘complementarity – or even synergy … are viable options. That synergy can be used optimally if the government and civil society organizations (and where possible the business community) draw up a broad analysis, oriented around foreign policy as a whole, of how international cooperation can be shaped and what everyone’s role is in that context. In addition, the approach must not be an exclusive search for win–win situations, but for the ideal of policy coherence to the benefit of a just and sustainable development for everyone.’

A minister for coherence?

‘International cooperation’ belongs to an era in which sovereign states maintained external relations with each other via their ministries of foreign affairs. As the WRR notes, ‘maintaining those relations with other countries, and the international defence of national interests via a single transmission point, is a nineteenth-century construction.’

TheCouncil contends that ‘the portfolio of the current minister for development cooperation should be upgraded to a package of tasks with two distinct components: managing NLAID and formulating a Dutch globalization agenda which considers a number of global problems in context and develops a Dutch perspective on them.’ Elsewhere, it proposes that the ‘line ministries take responsibility for international public goods in their own specific field of activity’, with the Ministry of General Affairs (headed by the prime minister) coordinating policy on global public goods, supplemented as necessary with ‘a special advisory council for global development’ or a ‘newly developed entity’.

There is widespread support for upgrading the post of minister for development cooperation, although as Ton Dietz points out, ‘we need a proper assessment of the pros and cons of existing arrangements elsewhere’ before further decisions are taken. Various options have been considered. Dietz favours a ‘Council for Global Development, Environment and Security as the coordinator of coherence, directly under the prime minister and with a minister for global sustainable development as its political head’. It links up several ideas that are circulating about a ‘council for policy coherence’ – a version of the existing Social and Economic Council (a tripartite consultation body of employers’ organizations, trade unions and government-appointed experts) that advises the government on key issues. Such a council would consist of representatives of various ministries and civil society organizations and appointed experts. The secretariat would then not be the responsibility of the minister for global (sustainable) development, since he or she will have to defend independently the interests of the poor on any such council.

Danielle Hirsch and Paul Wolvekamp also favour a ‘broadly mandated ministry for international sustainable development that would guarantee policy coherence’. Paul Hassing believes that a ‘minister for coherence and development aid’ is inevitable in the next Dutch government.

A separate ‘broad-based’ ministry should cover global (sustainable) development and human security. Other ministries should take care of their own global strategies. A special coherence council should address coherence issues and choose between the different global interests of the various ministries and other actors, among which the global development ministry. NLAID or the embassies should be the offshoots of this global development architecture and not separate entities.

“Another good idea is to broaden the development cooperation portfolio to increase the coherence between development aid and issues like international trade, foreign investment and migration (p.246). This is, of course, not a new idea but it is now being put forward with fervour and it underlines the role of the Ministry of General Affairs and the prime minister.”

Meine Pieter van Dijk talks of ‘a minister for globalization issues’ who can help create circumstances conducive to the self-reliance of developing countries ‘and stimulate coherence between different policy areas which are of interest to developing countries. Such a minister will also have to try to create unity at the European level on trade and environment issues, since such matters are primarily arranged at that level. Paul Engel also believes that what is at stake is policy coherence at European level. ‘To continue playing its role in global development, it is very important that there is a proper linking of development aid and the Dutch globalization agenda, taking the coherence of global issues into account and developing a Dutch perspective. The need for the Netherlands to reassess its ambitions and make defining choices is very well presented, as is the need to contextualize the Dutch commitment at international level more than is currently the case. Wherever these observations relating to the Netherlands are followed up on in the form of concrete recommendations on how this should be tackled, the authors generally do not go beyond presenting analyses and insights in relation to global and European commitment. … This is noticeable precisely in areas in which European policy has a major influence on the development of developing countries – trade, migration, food, agriculture, environment, energy. … ‘Why is the “substantial agenda for change” (chapter 5, p.165) not extended to the Dutch commitment in Europe?’ Why is there no argument in favour of an albeit “shallow” but still communal EU global development policy, now that the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty appears to provide every reason for doing so? Why is so little attention paid to the Dutch commitment to achieve a real European distribution of development aid tasks? The reassessment of ambitions, commitment and resources relating to global development will surely affect the Netherlands’ European commitment as well?’

Paul Hassing interprets a focus on the role of Europe as a choice for another ‘political model’: ‘The EU regards the mutual development the public and private sectors are undergoing as equal, with the role of civil society being to keep both sectors focused by drawing attention to democracy, human rights, security and the reliability of services. Is it not time to start promoting this political model rather than drawing the World Bank’s attention to the shortcomings of its political stance? The WRR report provides sufficient relevant examples but fails to refer specifically to this architecture.’

A discussion of the ministerial architecture relating to coherence and global public goods is urgently needed, certainly in the light of ideas for limiting the number of ministries. In related sectors the debate is already more advanced, as shown, for example, by the apparent unity on setting up a single coordinating energy ministry. Almost all Dutch political parties agree that all energy matters should be arranged centrally.

Dutch energy policy has major consequences and important links with both global sustainability and geopolitics. Any minister for global development will therefore have to collaborate with the new energy minister. In view of the broad political support, it seems very likely that this important post will be created. A new government could also set up a central energy transition fund which, on the basis of a broad long-term vision, would be used to finance an energy policy founded on renewable energy sources. The corresponding depletion of fossil fuels, certainly in the European context, could have major geopolitical consequences and create both opportunities and uncertainties that the development sector should monitor a lot more closely.

NLAID and global development

Few contributors make a conceptual connection between the WRR’s proposal to set up separate NLAID country offices and its argument in favour of orienting policy much more towards global development. Most discuss only one or the other, similar to the way in which the Council itself treats the two levels separately in its report.

Nevertheless, in view of the WRR’s analysis of changing global relationships and increasing interdependence, it seems logical that the country-specific approach is integrated into a coordinating global development strategy. Jeroen Rijniers advocates this: ‘The WRR convincingly shows that a broader approach to development, based on a concern for global public goods, is more important than classic types of aid. The latter should essentially be seen as part of the former. So far so good. And yet the Council doesn’t adopt this broader approach itself. In its conclusion, “global development” is presented as a kind of add-on to a much more extensive narrative about “classic aid”. But if you were to approach it from the opposite vantage point – i.e. by taking global development as a starting point – then I believe it’s highly doubtful that you would end up with the same kind of recommendations for aid that the Council is making. This means that a focus on local self-sufficiency in a limited number of countries and a selection of sectors based on one’s own knowledge and expertise are not things we can automatically take for granted.’

Hans Opschoor, in contrast, believes that the two should be viewed separately. ‘I agree that we need to invest in capacity (here and potentially elsewhere) to deal with issues of common international concern. But I do not see that development policy institutions (ministries or agencies) should reorient themselves to exclusively incorporate in their agenda these global issues … To begin with, the issues are generally very different from those that come within scope when we consider poverty alleviation or human development as typically defined (e.g. in the HD index), and thus necessitate appropriate analytical as well as policy developmental capacities. But, more pragmatically, the countries that one would wish to interact with are likely to be very different from the 10 that DGIS should focus on according to the WRR (or, even, than the current list of countries). If, for instance, in the field of international environmental cooperation, one wants to address global environmental challenges, one needs to relate to countries that have an impact on those challenges or that can help with addressing them.’

Some contributors highlight the fact that the lack of concrete recommendations in the field of global development has meant that the focus of the discussion is mainly on traditional aid and NLAID.

“The WRR rightly gave the complex context-specific and endogenous character of development considerable consideration. Aid can and must cannot and must not pretend to be more than it is. Agreed. But the recommendations about aid do have an air of old development cooperation’s supply-driven interventionism: based on thorough analyses, the Netherlands is going to take its own knowledge and skills and give development (self-reliance) a boost in 10 poor countries. It sounds as if donor-driven, integrated development concepts and projects making a comeback, and ownership, demand-driven development and alignment never existed.”

Pros and cons of a separate agency NLAID?

So far, the discussion about a new development architecture has mainly focussed on the idea of creating a separate agency, called NLAID. Opinions are divided, but it is striking that the debate about NLAID is completely independent from the discussion on global public goods and policy coherence, and the corresponding institutional changes.
In the discussion on NLAID, contributors such as Voorhoeve, Grotenhuis, Dietz and Luyten offer a number of arguments in favour of a new agency:

  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has lost a great deal of expertise, so this would offer an opportunity to professionalize development policy.

Paul Hassing: ‘Het rapport pleit voor een professionele organisatie. Uit mijn 20 jarige ervaring bij het departement kan ik de analyse van een afnemende deskundigheid op het departement alleen maar bevestigen. Sinds de herijking medio jaren negentig is de deskundigheid zowel kwalitatief als kwantitatief afgenomen. Het is juist wat het rapport stelt, dat het diplomatieke carrièreperspectief het opbouwen van deskundigheid in de weg staat. … In tegenstelling tot andere departementen, kent het apparaat geen kennismanagement structuur… . Echter, ook een deel van het verlies aan deskundigheid moet gezocht worden in de toenemende bureaucratie en verantwoordingscultuur. De tijd die overblijft voor reflectie wordt steeds minder en het interne discours op het departement is oppervlakkiger geworden. Rapporten worden vooraf niet meer gelezen! Een NL Aid is daarom gewenst.’

Jos Coumans: ‘The possibility of pursuing a more specific personnel policy, with a much-needed focus on young(er) experts and career planning.’

Chudi Ukpabi: ‘… professionalism that builds on expertise and effective service delivery – as raised in the report – is a very interesting point, suggesting NLAID as a professional entity that would deliver aid funds and programme contracts directly to institutions in Africa and other developing countries, in relation to whatever roles Dutch NGOs would play.’

Gerrit Holtland: ‘… in my view, the basic attribute of any professional is craftsmanship, or being technically competent. A development professional is, then, someone who is able to use her competencies effectively in a development setting. In practice: a professional who understands that her (technical) skills have to be adapted to the local circumstances.’

  • The lack of knowledge within the embassies is also recognized by several contributors who oppose NLAID.

Henk Molenaar: ‘Ik deel de mening dat er het nodige schort aan de kennis (kenniscreatie, kennisborging, kennisdeling, kennisbenutting) binnen het Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken en het postennetwerk. Ongetwijfeld hangt dit samen met de snelle functieroulatie en het bredere HRM beleid dat resulteert in generalisten. Maar er zijn naar mijn gevoel nog wel andere factoren in het spel.(…) Maar er is ook behoefte aan andere competenties. Zo zijn diplomatieke vaardigheden van belang voor beleidsdialoog en politieke onderhandelingen. Het kunnen aftasten van achterliggende motieven en het verkennen van de speelruimte bij onderhandelingen is iets heel anders dan het beschikken over inhoudelijke thematische kennis. Binnen de sector bestaat daar over het algemeen weinig erkenning en waardering voor. Ook de raad besteedt er in zijn rapport geen aandacht aan.’

  • Country offices would improve the continuity and depth of knowledge of the local context, as staff would be deployed for longer periods than the four-year career carousel.

Gerrit Holtland: ‘In my experience, the ability to make one’s expertise useful in a developing setting can only be acquired in the development context itself. … However, the prevailing view seems to be that development professionalism has to be increased by improving – and stimulating – development studies and development research. The call for a professional implementing agency is then linked to creating “knowledge centres” …institutions like the UK’s Overseas Development Institute. In my opinion, that is dangerous: it is exactly this kind of organization that generates the “policy narratives” that lead to the “hypes”, which cause so many problems in the first place!… So, more development research and studies as we know it will not make our aid more professional; more practical experience will.’

  • Aid would be separated from diplomacy.

Jos Coumans: ‘Clear responsibilities are the basis for a learning organization and for any accountability system.’

Chudi Ukpabi: ‘Something that is often overlooked is the realization that a diplomatic bureaucracy is often motivated by self-interest and mistrust, and development aid relations are primarily built on trust and mutual respect. Thus, the development environment can hardly work effectively when structurally embedded in a diplomatic culture bureaucracy. This is a vital reason that NLAID is a very creative idea that should be explored with great effort.’

Gerrit Holtland: ‘Unfortunately, the minister already indicated that he is not greatly in favour of that. Why? If the many discussions on the impact of aid have shown anything, it is that political interference reduces the impact. His suggestion is that it would be too expensive. I cannot see the point.’

Ton Dietz: ‘NLAID is a good idea, and as far as I am concerned, a breakaway from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would even be better. This would be under a NL Council for Global Development, Environment and Security as the coordinator of coherence, directly under the prime minister and with a minister for global sustainable development as its political head, coordinating 10 or so hub agencies under a professional head and with country heads, and combining all the cabinet’s money on non-European affairs and global issues. This Rijksdienst needs its own personnel management, but might need the protection of the Netherlands embassies abroad – as long as there is a breakaway from using diplomats as development experts.’

  • The management of aid would be shifted to the recipient country.

Jos Coumans: ‘It offers more possibilities for involving local and regional actors in the discussions and in what is now known as the “policy dialogue”,’ and more harmonization is possible between all kinds of Dutch organizations that work in a particular country and it creates the ‘possibility of assessing, per country, what the best channel is in that specific situation.’

Gerrit Holtland: ‘The idea of an independent, professional organization in a limited number of countries is very appealing to me. It seems the only way to streamline the contribution of the growing number of aid channels (multi- and bilateral, NGOs, scientific cooperation, private sector cooperation, etc.). I have worked in all these channels (DGIS, Nuffic, EVD/PSI, NGOs) and the lack of coordination is astonishing and extremely damaging.’

Some commentators offer a variety of arguments against NLAID:

  • The detachment of aid from diplomacy might result in the disappearance of political leverage, making it more difficult to pursue a coherent policy, with the result that the Netherlands would speak with two voices.

Alpha Barry: ‘Finally, the call for a separate NLAID is not surprising (the Dutch wouldn’t be the first to have such a split) and it may have some advantages, but careful analysis is needed to ensure that this will solve more problems than it will create. One particular issue is the risk of not capitalizing on the potentially much more rewarding link between the Dutch human rights strategy (falling under the political responsibility of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, with an important role for the Dutch embassies, strong links to coherence issues) and Dutch development cooperation.’

Bernard Berendsen: ‘In haar jongste rede voor het Centre for Global Development heeft minister van buitenlandse zaken Clinton van de VS nu juist gepleit voor een nauwere samenwerking tussen diplomaten en OS deskundigen in het veld. De huidige organisatiestructuur bij het Nederlandse ministerie van BZ garandeert nu juist een nauwe afstemming tussen OS en buitenlands beleid en betere garanties voor een coherent buitenlands en ontwikkelingsbeleid dan de structuur die de WRR voorstelt.’

Paul Hoebink: ‘Een tweede punt betreft het veranderde karakter van ontwikkelingssamenwerking. Ik moet bekennen dat ik in de jaren negentig om bovengenoemde redenen ook een sterk voorstander was van het instellen van een dergelijke rijksdienst voor ontwikkelingssamenwerking. De ontwikkelingssamenwerking van toen is, gelukkig, al lang niet meer de ontwikkelingssamenwerking van nu. Als je budgetsupport geeft of sectorsteun staat dialoog met de regering en de ministeries van het ontvangende land voorop. Het is de vraag nu of die dialoog vanuit een aparte ontwikkelingsdienst als NLAid ook te voeren is. De Duitse situatie (met een organisatie die bevroren is in een GTZ en KfW) bewijst dat dat niet kan. Bij de Zweden en de Noren zijn de hulpafdelingen onderdeel van de ambassade.’

Danielle Hirsch and Paul Wolvekamp: ‘While in a position to advocate for a broadly mandated ministry for international sustainable development that would guarantee policy coherence, the WRR recommendations focus on the creation of a specialized NLAID. Such an institution would be based in recipient countries, and would therefore have even less leverage over other sectors, such as trade, environment and transport, than the current DGIS.’

  • The focus on countries ignores new realities and global approaches.

Erik Nijland: ‘Geheel in lijn met Koenders omarmt de WRR de noodzaak van landenanalyses, maar het is nu vaak de politieke analyse van globale processen die vaak ontbreekt in dit soort landenstudies. Juist in een wereld die in toenemende mate globaliseert volstaat het niet om per land ontwikkelingsprocessen en –mogelijkheden uitputtend te beschrijven. Daar gaat het vooral ook om de verbinding van lokale en globale analyses.
Helaas ontkomt de WRR ook niet aan een zekere versimpeling van de werkelijkheid. Het moge zo zijn dat naar macro-economische criteria in Latijns-Amerika nog maar weinig landen echt arm zijn, maar de ongelijkheid in die landen is nog altijd enorm en processen van uitsluiting, onrecht en marginalisatie zijn door de economische groei en globalisering niet minder geworden. Integendeel zelfs.’

Hedwig Bruggeman: ‘In de OS landen zit niemand te wachten op nóg een uitvoerende concurrerende projectorganisatie van Westerse snit, zoals NLAID nu wordt gepresenteerd. De materie is daar te ingewikkeld voor en de nood om creatief samen te werken te hoog. Brede coalities bouwen op zorgvuldig geïdentificeerde thema’s en sectoren zoals water en landbouw is waar de vernieuwing vandaan moet komen. Om effectief te zijn moet NLAID uit een team van “netwerk facilitators” bestaan. En daarbij zou ik me niet beperken tot de BV-Nederland, maar deze Nederlandse dienst in het kader van de “Accra Agenda for Action” in europees verband aanbieden.’

  • NLAID would create a new bureaucracy.

Leon Willems: ‘… the report wants to stop the knowledge drain inside the Dutch ministry resulting from the bi-annual job rotation schemes. But creating NLAID will not stop it. These job-rotation schemes are indeed affecting and eroding the efficiency and organizational knowledge of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (as well as in the entire NGO sector by the way). But specialists will keep on moving every two to three years as is the case in all UN organizations and the entire NGO sector. And this is not different in the USAID and DFID specialized agencies that the WRR cherishes in its report. I know because I worked for three and a half years in the Sudan and can demonstrate the gazillion number of contacts in my outlook account for all foreign entities.

‘NLAID will also not necessarily change the disruptive effect on long-term development planning by the frequent government changes in the Netherlands. NLAID will become an excellent tool for short-term political prioritization that has been pestering the development sector in the last 30+ years with every new development minister. It will create coordination problems with foreign diplomacy, defence strategists and trade-specialized organizations. In my view it won’t work and will create yet another wave of fashionable mood swings in the aid sector.’

  • The examples of USAID or DFID are not entirely positive.

Arjan de Haan: ‘The comparison with USAID is unfortunate, as I don’t think anybody will cite USAID as a good example (in fact, USAID is the opposite; US aid efforts are managed by about 20 different departments and subject to regular congressional ‘appropriations’). The comparison with UKAID is not very fortunate either, as the establishment of DFID in 1997 was a political not technical decision – and a very progressive one at that.’

  • It is doubtful whether NLAID would be able to direct local NGOs and thus partly take over the task of Dutch NGOs.

Erik Nijland: ‘I have my doubts since the de-politicization of the official frameworks is advanced and in many developing countries there is considerable distance between Dutch development officials and (critical) civil society (with no offence intended, of course, to the expert officials involved at many of the embassies).’

Other comments cannot clearly be categorized as being either for or against NLAID:

  • Maybe it would be better to operate country offices together with other donors, or establish one platform per country.

Sjoerd Nienhuys: ‘Ideally, the collective development organizations should have a national platform in the assisted country of experienced development workers, OPA. This OPA team should make an annually-adjusted country profile and develop a projection/strategy. This should preferably be in coordination with the government of that country. In such a case, we develop cooperation (samenwerking) instead of just aid (hulp).’

Hans Opschoor: ‘…more mass (and impact, which is, after all, mass times velocity) by concentrating on fewer sectors and countries along that track. I would qualify the latter point by adding: as long as this is done in an internationally coordinated way, and as long as it does not engender further incoherence.’

  • Separate not in the recipient countries, but the development (DGIS) and foreign affairs branches of the ministry in The Hague .

Paul Hassing: ‘Een NL Aid is daarom gewenst. Dit kan door een deel van het DGIS af te scheiden en separaat ergens onder te brengen met een eigen kennisbeleid. Echter, een afscheiding zou complementair dienen te zijn aan de bestaande organisaties bij andere EU lidstaten (bijv. gebruik van landenbureaus ter plekke).’

Eric Smaling: ‘De suggestie van NL-Aid (liever deskundigheid dan geld) zal zeker op weerstand stuiten bij de gevestigde orde, maar wanneer andere donoren hier goede ervaringen mee hebben, is het het overwegen waard. Ik teken daar wel bij aan dat ik op veel ambassades wel degelijk relevante deskundigheid aantref en dus de wat rigide constatering dat deze onder de maat is niet helemaal deel. Wat wel goed zou zijn is de staf van het Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken te scheiden in OS en niet-OS, op basis van interesse en achtergrond.’

  • The name NLAID would muddy the discussion due to its associations with old-fashioned aid and with, for example, USAID (Van der Sleen). This in turn may mean that potential benefits might be ignored. Perhaps it would be better to use a different name, such as ‘strategic hubs’ (Dietz suggests ‘hub agencies’), which also opens up the possibility of a policy not strictly aimed at countries: should they be country offices, or is the (international) region a more appropriate scale?

Erik van der Sleen: ‘Noem die dienst alsjeblieft, alsjeblieft geen NLAID of NethAid. Iedere associatie met USAID moet een professionele organisatie verre van zich werpen. Dat is een officiële uitvoeringsorganisatie van de USA regering, en wordt om die reden wereldwijd gewantrouwd. Uit de buurt blijven!’

  • We should examine the experiences of SNV, which has been working in a variety of guises for four decades.

Kees Zevenbergen: ‘Kunnen we bij het beantwoorden van de vraag of NLAID een goed idee is of niet wat leren van onze pseudo NLAID SNV vraagt Ton Dietz zich af. Ook Jaap Dijkstra suggereert om eens een goeie duik te nemen in de ervaringen van SNV. Paul Hoebink vindt dat bij de beoordeling van een nieuwe constellatie ook gekeken moet worden naar de toekomstige rol van SNV daarin.
Valt er wat te leren van de ervaringen van SNV? Neen, volgens Johan van de Gronden. Met een ietwat vileine opmerking schuift hij SNV als irrelevant terzijde. Daar doet hij de organisatie met haar 40+ jarige ervaring te kort mee. En, sterker nog, het niet leren van een organisatie die jaarlijks rond de 90 miljoen Euro aan publieke middelen ontvangt lijkt me toch zonde. Dus de handschoen opgepakt … een eerste aanzet tot leren van de ervaring van SNV als pseudo NLAID….’

Dirk Elsen: ‘Laten we ook vooral op waarde schatten wat andere actoren (maatschappelijk middenveld, bedrijfsleven, etc.) hebben te bieden en ook daar lering uit trekken voor de toekomst. In dat verband suggereren meerdere commentatoren dat we eens goed moeten kijken naar die Nederlandse ontwikkelingsorganisatie die met meer dan 900 (merendeels lokale) professionals vanuit bijna 100 vestigingen in meer dan 30 ontwikkelingslanden al sinds jaar en dag werkt aan de door de WRR zo geprezen “zelfredzaamheid” van lokale mensen. Die organisatie richt zich voor een belangrijk deel op het creëren van werk en het verbeteren van inkomensposities in economische sectoren. Financiële overdrachten komen er vrijwel niet aan te pas. Een en ander lijkt zowaar aardig aan te sluiten bij de hoofdlijnen van het WRR rapport. Misschien inderdaad niet zo’n gek idee om daar nog eens goed naar te kijken.’

Continue reading: the four sections of the Special report in issue 19 of The Broker Magazine

  1. Getting the basics right – General principles for a new development policy
  2. Going global – Alternative political projects
  3. Identifying obstacles – Strategic choices through context analyisis
  4. Building a new structure – Institutional architecture for global development