El Consenso de Cebú - La sociedad civil se reorganiza después de Busán

Cebu, once a pearl of the Philippine tourism, is where Tony Tujan, the co-chair of BetterAid and native from the province, hosted the meeting that brought together 80 delegates from the BetterAid platform and the Open Forum on CSO Development Effectiveness on 20-23 February 2012. The meeting was called to discuss how CSOs will organise to work further on the issues of development effectiveness and interact within the new Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation.

In 2008 BetterAid (BA) took over from the International Steering Group (ISG) and was officially launched as the political coordination platform for civil society after the 3rd High Level Forum (HLF-3) in Accra. The Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness (OF) was created in the upbeat to Accra to let the civil society work jointly and independently from the governments on the issues of development effectiveness. The culmination of OF’s work was the formulation (in 2011) of the International Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness, that includes the 8 Istanbul Principles on CSO Development Effectiveness.

After the HLF-4 in Busan (2011), both platforms had to reconsider their missions and tasks in the light of the newly approved Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (BPEDC).

The Cebu consensus

After two days as heated debates in Cebu and despite some traditional institutional reluctance to the reform itself, the 80 participants representing the continental networks form Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, North America and Europe as well as large constituency-based organisations such as AWID (women) and ITUC (labour), agreed to create a new, unified platform that would address the post-Busan challenges of CSO engagement, representation and coordination.

The new platform, which shape will be finalised in the coming months, will substitute BA and OF in September. Then, both platforms will dissolve. In the meanwhile, a task team representing the major constituencies, including the trade unions through the ITUC/TUAC, will work on the blueprint for a workable and effective CSO coordination.
The unwritten pages of the post-Busan governance

However, what should such the CSO platform do while its institutional context is still “under construction”? The post-Busan architecture is currently being debated by donor and partner governments, multilateral institutions (World Bank, OECD/DAC, UN Development Group etc.) and civil society. A “global-light/country-heavy” structure was an easy approach to declare in Busan - easier than operationalizing it, especially when the structure is meant to provide at least a minimum of monitoring and assessment of the commitments made. By July, the new governance structure should be in place and will hopefully include duly trade union representation the table, along with private sector and other actors.

But the development debate is now also taking place elsewhere. Paris and Accra were for many reasons “unique” as debate and policy setting places. Today, there are emerging development agendas not only around the Busan Partnership. G20 has its development working group (launched also at the initiative of the South Korean government), the OECD DAC is reviewing its development agenda, Rio+20 struggles with Sustainable Development Goals and the UN is kicking of the post-2015 debates. Will there be sufficient capacity from governments and other partners to deal with all these agendas? Will they compete and allow for diverging approaches to get away with it? It may well be that the least structured (with no vested institutional interest), the Busan Partnership, may suffer the most from this chaotic development architecture.

The Busan Building Blocks: Clusters 2.0?

The voluntary and unstructured nature of the aid effectiveness working area, floating in the air between the OECD and the UN, had already led to a complex and unfocussed group of “Clusters”. They structurally suffered from a lack of resources, lack of support from partner-countries, ill-conceived involvement of civil society in the donor driven processes and workstreams. The pre-Busan Clusters failure was clearly proven by the evidence collected in the 2011 Survey on Monitoring the Paris Declaration: only on 1 out of the 13 (limited) indicators progress was made. What is more, the overall progress was made in particular by the partner governments, not by those controlling the game - the donor countries.

In the run-up to Busan, the co-chairs of the OECD Working Party on Aid Effectiveness, Bert Koenders and Talaat Abdel-Malek, proposed as a working method to organise the work in “Building Blocks”, rather than the existing “Clusters”. The Building Blocks (BBs) were further discussed and shaped in Busan during the HLF-4 as partner-country driven and multi-stakeholder “coalitions of the willing” or “communities of practice”, responding to the voluntary nature of commitments. An overview of the currently existing (at least on paper) eight BBs and their supporters can be found on the OECD website.

However, there is no clear guidance on how the BBs will work. Many of them remain as the “clusters” were - donor-driven and generally unfocussed. Civil society and trade unions are not considered to be an essential part of the initiatives and are, at best, “invited to subscribe” to what governments already decided. The coming months will hopefully bring more clarity in the added value of the BBs.

The wrong paradigm shift: from aid to development or from the right to development to “doing business”?

The geopolitics on the one hand and the donor-fatigue on the aid effectiveness engagements gave free way to what euphemistically was called by some “a new vision” of development: private sector will bring growth and that will solve the problems and ensure general development. In this vision, states should limit themselves to managing effectively the enabling conditions to “advance both development and business outcomes so that they are mutually reinforcing” .

We are indeed in a paradigm shift, but not one that places aid in the broader context of the right to development, but one that has put market driven economic growth as the new credo for development.
If Paris (2005) and Accra (2008) had some timed engagements to foster rights-based development strategies as prerequisites for sustainability, the Busan Partnership has relegated rights-based approaches to the CSO-only engagements, at a moment where in a growing number of countries all around the world, people’s basic rights are violated and freedom of association and assembly is under as increasing pressure.

Civil society will therefore take up the challenge and propose rights-based approaches to be included in the proposed post-Busan Building Blocks (e.g. on private sector, results and accountability, South-South cooperation, effective institutions and policies etc.) We will also encourage the Task Team on CSO Effectiveness and the Enabling Environment to build a strong block for the promotion of basic rights for civil society, including freedom of association, freedom of expression, the right to operate free from unwarranted state interference, the right to communicate and cooperate, the right to seek and secure funding and the state’s duty to protect their citizens.
The new platform, as well as its alliances with committed governments and other actors, should bring concrete in-country implementation and international engagement that addresses the main challenge left without consideration in Busan: the lack of political will to implement their commitments and reach for tangible, rights-based development results that matter for the people.

Trade unions after Busan and Cebu: committed to combat inequality and poverty

As declared in our Trade union statement in response to the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation: “the international trade union movement commits to engage in the GPEDC and its governance and working structures in the post-Busan processes, in particular in shaping the proposed building blocks on “private sector”, on “results and accountability” and others, such as RBA[…].The international trade union movement reiterates its commitment toward an alternative development paradigm based on social justice and sustainability through fighting inequality, promoting the Decent Work Agenda, social protection and green jobs, and an inclusive and legitimate, standards based, international development architecture.”
As trade union movement, we have shared an important part of the CSO strategy and analysis before, in Busan and afterwards. The Cebu consensus, establishing the new CSO platform, is now to be translated in workable structures and effective strategies within civil society. Our engagement will depend on the strength of those commitment and alliances as well as on the effectiveness to deal with the new agendas and the new players: the BRICs and private sector.

This may or may not be a shared agenda with mainstream civil society. Together with TUAC, as well as our regional and national affiliates, we will be vigilant to ensure that our agenda as a representative and member-based social movement defending the rights of working people all over the world is being listened to adequately and we are given our right place at the table.

Article by Jan Dereymaeker, ITUC