Civil Society side-lined after Busan?

Brian Atwood, the chair of the DAC/OECD publically expressed his deep appreciation for the role CSO played in the process leading to the Busan High Level Forum , shaping parts of the Busan Partnership and delivering on their commitments since the Accra Forum (2008). Still, the Building Block approach taken in Busan has failed so far to include the civil society in a meaningful way.

Unlike donor governments, CSO indeed brought to Busan the evidence of their engagement through the adoption of the Istanbul Principles on CSO Effectiveness and the International Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness.

CSOs brought also the perspective that aid should not any longer be the focus of development work, but that development needed a broad, rights-based strategy, policy coherence and legitimate international cooperation [1], reformulating the debate from aid effectiveness to the broader development effectiveness approach.

The Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation finally agreed to shift the focus from a “transactional aid relationship to a transformational development relationship” [2]. By doing so, the Busan Partnership document (BPd) responded certainly to global imperatives and evolutions in the development world. However, BPd did not bring the paradigm shift that was demanded by the civil society. It is the adjustment of development policies to the geopolitical and economic evolutions that has taken place over the last decade rather that a new road to development.

The rather complex and somewhat “bizarre” construction of the Partnership created an open-ended process, bringing in partners on undefined grounds of engagement. The new South-South development cooperation partners, such as China, India and Brazil opted for a voluntary application of what is in essence a voluntary agreement (sic). Private sector subscribed narrowly to only one paragraph (§ 32) of the Busan Partnership, disarticulating it from the common goals (Human Rights, Decent Work, gender equality etc.) and differential commitments (referring to the Paris and Accra principles of effective development cooperation). And above all, the document lacked any clearly formulated way of engagement and monitoring post-Busan. The easy-going small talk about “global-light and country-heavy” has led to a virtual agreement that had to accommodate everybody, but has engaged very few.

Through the formula of Building Blocks, donor governments imposed in Busan a menu of showcasing exercises in line with their national agendas, introducing BBs on Private sector, Results (“Value for Money”), Effective Institutions (in developing countries!), but not on Rights Based Approaches, Democratic Ownership or further donor engagement on the Paris principles of transparency and accountability, let alone untying of aid and predictability. The intention of having development country-led and country-based approaches to development challenges was expressed and approved.

Where are we 6 months later? The Building Block process is now, through the reality check, revealing its true nature: donor-led in nearly all cases, based on donor priorities as well as side-lining partner country governments and… organised civil society. The Building Block approach has wiped out the (small, but tangible and appreciated) achievements of Accra, e.g. statements that development strategies should be multi-stakeholder-based and owned by the country. Partner countries remain on the side-line and engagements are often taken only by the “aid-champion” governments such as Rwanda, Honduras, Colombia and Bangladesh. They may be doing OK with the donor expectations on aid, but often struggle with serious “issues” when it comes to fundamental freedoms, democratic ownership and interaction with civil society...

Reformulation the CSO agenda and engagement: building on the Cebu Consensus

In February member organisations forming the CSO platforms that headed the Busan process, (BetterAid, coordinating engagement in the political process, the OECD Working Party on Aid Effectiveness and its clusters as well as the Busan outcome document negotiations on the one hand and the Open Forum for CSO Effectiveness, driving the CSO effectiveness process leading to the elaboration Istanbul Principles and the Framework for CSO Effectiveness on the other) met in Cebu, Philippines to reassess the situation and line out their strategies for the future.

They decided to create a new and unique platform to engage with the Global Partnership, based on the critical assessment of the Busan outcomes [3]. The process of creating the platform would be based on lessons learned from the previous experiences (BA and OF) and modelled on a more direct engagement with constituencies: decentralisation towards national, sub-regional and regional coordination bodies and involvement of representative worldwide member-based civil society organisations (labour, women, rural etc.) This should allow not only to “reach out” but also, and in the first place to “reach in”, bringing the contributions of civil society on the development challenges to the table at country and global levels.
Basket funding and dialogue-based engagement with donors and funding agencies have been very effective and valuable for both parties, as shown in the post-Accra process, not at least through the achievement of the CSO led processes on AAA commitments. The blueprint for this new approach was discussed in the “G13” [4] meeting in Amsterdam in April. Regional and sub-regional as well as sector-based consultations will now take place, setting grounds for the creation of the new CSO platform in the fall of 2012.

However, the post-Busan engagement of the CSOs is more than problematic. CSO are clearly side-lined, at best “tolerated” through the Building Blocs approach that is based on government-only proceeding and donor-driven showcase agendas. The fragile equilibrium that allowed China and others to come in, kept the CSO agenda on Human Rights-Based approaches and accountability questions out.

Despite the substantial achievements that were made in Accra, the CSOs strategy will have to re-establish and reinvent itself. As we did between Paris and Accra, we will have to fight our way in back in the post-Busan agenda hijacked by governments. However, this time the global setting will be different and engaging with the new and emerging donors as well as with private sector, powerful charities and weakened traditional donors will need stronger country engagement and a strong emphasis on policy coherence in the larger, development –beyond-aid strategy. Sectors and national/regional platforms will need to organise and develop their agendas, outreach and advocacy strategies accordingly. More commitment will be needed by individual groups and organisations to meet the diversity of challenges.

Human Rights Based Approaches will have to be the central axe of our agenda, as is the need for affirmative action around the enabling environment for civil society (and democratic ownership). The private sector contributions, or more largely the social and economic development drivers will have to be framed by the developmental commitments to human rights, decent work, gender equality, anti-discrimination and environmental sustainability. Involvement of trade unions and employers organisations through social dialogue should also bring the actors of the real economy to the development table.

The democratic governance agenda should not slip into a governmental “mutual interest” discourse that would release them from accountability toward their citizens.

The coming months will hopefully bring more clarity on what the agendas will look like and what the ground will be for the new CSO platform to engage with the post-Busan GPEDC. Clear and responsible commitments from all sides in favour of a truly multi-stakeholder approach (the enabling environment for CSO engagement) will be a condition sine qua non. After the Accra commitments on inclusive ownership and dialogue and the recognition of our role as development actors in our own right, we will not be sitting in the gallery. The launch of the GPEDC in June will have to make clear commitments to the multi-stakeholder process (maybe even including, against the current dynamics, a CSO co-chair?) and allow all governance structures, including the Building Blocks to be genuine multistakeholder in their governance and programme.

As trade unions, we made public our stand and engagement post-Busan at the TUDCN General Meeting in Florence. That will guide us and focus us on the content and the achievable targets of the GPEDC and its Building Blocks, in terms of achieving progress on the Decent Work Agenda and on socially sustainable and inclusive development for all, also when looking at CSO representation and cooperation.

Article by Jan Dereymaeker TUDCN, Brussels, 01/05/2012