Busan Commitments: A Flickering Flame

The Busan 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4) was a turning point for civil society when more than 300 CSO representatives were present and called upon all development actors to achieve a bold outcome through the 1) full evaluation and deepening of Paris and Accra commitments; 2) strengthening development effectiveness through practices based on human rights standards; 3) supporting CSOs as independent development actors in their own right, and committing to an enabling environment for their work in all countries; and 4) promoting equitable and just development cooperation architecture.

These were the CSO Key Asks on the Road to Busan that remain an important guide for CSO engagement with the process of reforming the aid system through development effectiveness advocacy, which we have continued to pursue through the open platform called CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE). CPDE brings together CSOs from all over the world with the vision of realizing human rights, social justice, equality (including gender equality) and sustainability in development.

Busan was a breakthrough in the acknowledgement of the link between the standards set out in international human rights agreements and the conditions that enable CSOs to maximize their contribution to development. Another was the acknowledgement of the CSO-authored international framework for CSO Development Effectiveness as the basis for CSOs to be held accountable as effective development actors. This is an important benchmark in establishing the vital role of civil society, and its autonomy, with Busan also having reaffirmed that CSOs are independent development actors in their own right.

However, our overall assessment is that two years after these commitments were made, there is lack of political will to implement the overall agenda and progress is undeniably slow. Thus, as the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) prepares to take stock of the Busan commitments in its first High-Level Meeting to be held in Mexico City in April 2014, CSOs are calling on all development actors to ensure an urgent and meaningful implementation of existing pledges towards development effectiveness.

Strengthen the enabling environment for CSOs as independent development actors

In Busan, governments agreed to “enable CSOs to exercise their role as independent development actors, with a particular focus on enabling environment, consistent with agreed international rights (§22a, emphasis added)”. Yet, country case studies and other documentation, from both CSOs and other independent observers cited in the CPDE’s review of evidence, confirm the Special rapporteur’s observation of a persistent and continuing narrowing of the legal and regulatory space for civil society.

On a more positive note, some governments are making efforts to improve conditions for CSOs as evidenced at the UN Human Rights Council’s 25th session in 2014 when several governments enabled the passing of a resolution urging a panel discussion on the creation of a safe and enabling environment for civil society in law and practice.

The Busan commitment to create an enabling environment for CSOs clearly requires an accountability framework and close monitoring of these commitments to minimum standards for enabling conditions for CSOs. To this end, we need to step up efforts in reporting on Indicator 2.

Democratic Ownership and Inclusive Development Partnerships

All stakeholders at the Busan High Level Forum agreed that “inclusive development partnerships” are the foundation for cooperation for effective development. A more inclusive development process requires governments to “deepen, extend and operationalize the democratic ownership of development policies (emphasis added §12a).”

Critical to democratic ownership is the existence of institutionalized, inclusive, muti-stakeholder mechanisms for determining and monitoring development policy and planning. The Task Team on Development Effectiveness reports that there is growing evidence of the effectiveness of multi-stakeholder approaches to advance ownership at the global level, such as seen with the GPEDC. There are also indications that, while the quality varies considerably, multi-stakeholder dialogue is on the rise at country level.

The CPDE Synthesis of evidence report on Busan commitments pointed to varying, but usually very limited, degrees to which national development strategies have been informed by inclusive consultations. The evidence describe consultations that are mostly episodic, at the discretion of governments, and often involved limited numbers of CSOs, selected for the broad support of government policy.

So, despite the Busan commitments, country evidence suggests that policy-making processes to determine development priorities and the allocation of resources for these priorities remain mainly an exclusive prerogative of governments, with a few opportunities for policy influence from affected populations. There are however, some examples of established multi-stakeholder dialogue.

CSO Development Effectiveness

Since Busan, CPDE has been working with regional and country level platforms and CSOs on awareness building, training initiatives, and improvements in CSO transparency and accountability related to the Istanbul Principles and the International Framework for Development Effectiveness.

As there is growing demand for civil society engagement, there needs to be corresponding resources for CSO capacity building and institutional strengthening. Most CSOs often experience deficits in basic administration, programming and implementation and require assistance in a broad range of fields like strategic planning, governance, human resource and financial management, resource mobilization, outcome and impact assessment, monitoring and performance reporting. Only a few CSOs in our region seem to be able to cope with the increasing demands placed on them by donors, governments, and communities. Increased capacity will enable CSOs to become powerful agents of change as partners in the delivery of better services, as enablers of social inclusion, and through making governments more effective, accountabile and transparent.

Promote equitable and just development cooperation architecture

Stakeholders in Busan agreed that a more inclusive development framework is the foundation for effective development cooperation. For inclusive development to fulfill its transformative potential, it must place people—especially the poor and marginalized—at the heart of development and must ensure human rights, equity and accountability.

A key element of inclusive development partnerships is partnerships that embrace leadership and ownership of development initiatives from varied development stakeholders, including civil society. Thus, CSOs may have ‘differential’ priorities, plans and approaches, and their ‘right of initiative’ to design and implement development programmes consistent with the needs and priorities of the people they serve or represent the needs to be maintained. Finding suggest however that the concept of ‘ownership’ continues ot be conflated with that of ‘alignment’ with government (or donor) plans and priorities, and ‘inclusive development partnerships’ are seen to exist when CSOs act as co-implementers of government programs rather than as development actors in their own right.

Gender Equality

The Busan Partnership Agreement highlights that gender equality and women’s empowerment are critical to achieving development results (paragraphs 20-22). It states that efforts will be redoubled to integrate targets for gender equality and women’s empowerment in accountability mechanisms, grounded in international and regional commitments, among others. As a measure of progress towards this commitment, the indicator agreed upon monitors countries that have a system for tracking allocations for gender equality and women’s empowerment, but gender equality has not been included as a main session to be reviewed in Mexico, neither is there a slight mention of this at this meeting.

Accelerate and deepen Busan commitment

While the Busan Partnership has moved the agenda beyond aid effectiveness, there is a need to strengthen development effectiveness in practice and overall adherence to human rights standards. CPDE advocates for a human rights-based approach (HRBA) in development that seeks to empower the rights-holders (people) to hold the duty-bearers (development stakeholders) accountable. Development cooperation must contribute to building the capacities of ‘duty-bearers’ to meet their obligations and of ‘rights-holders’ to claim their rights. To this end, CSOs strongly ask development actors to:

• Ensure the realisation of democratic ownership as the core aid and development effectiveness principle.
• Practice inclusive multi-stakeholder policy dialogue
• Promote and implement gender equality and women’s rights
• Entrench human rights, decent work, and sustainability in development policies, programmes and outcomes
• Commit to and implement rights-based approaches to development
• Mainstream a HRBA at all levels of development policy, encouraging the implementation of independent human rights complaints mechanisms to provide individuals/groups affected by donor-funded development programs means of redress.

As I prepared this presentation, I reflected on the Busan partnership agreement as a flickering flame—an inconstant and wavering light, a brief or slight sensation, a flame that burns unsteadily. As the world heads to Mexico for the First High Level Ministerial to review the Busan commitments, let us keep the promise of Busan at the forefront of our minds, lest we forget.#

This article is based on Emele Duituturaga’s recent presentation during the Asia-wide pre-HLM Consultation in Seoul, Korea March 10-11,2014. See full presentation here.

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