I believe the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness can change the way we think about doing aid better, in the same way the Millennium Development Goals changed the way the world thinks about what aid is for. Yes, we still need to reach consensus on remaining targets and I know that some delegates left the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in March frustrated that a number of empty boxes next to the targets still remained.
But as someone involved with both the Rome High Level Forum in 2003 and the Paris Forum, I came away impressed by the very real advances that were made in Paris.
The Rome Declaration in 2003 certainly had the merit of giving the issue of “doing aid better” much more profile. But developing country participation was limited, no donor country Ministers attended, and no collective accountability was put in place.
It was remarkable that in Paris over one hundred countries - nearly half of them developing countries, and with a strong participation of Ministers on both sides, and many multilateral agency heads - participated and signed the Declaration; that we reached consensus on fifty practical commitments to do aid better; and that all countries agreed to the principle of setting indicators and targets to measure each other’s success, and in practice to twelve indicators and to preliminary targets for five of them.
All parties made a commitment to complete the targets by September.
In other words, 100 per cent of participants – some of the wealthiest and poorest countries from across the world, multilateral organisations, and regional banks – agreed to not only do aid better, but to be held accountable for doing aid better.
The question is, how will the Paris Declaration affect behaviour on the ground in developing countries? By putting a real stress on ownership by poorer countries it will change the way both developing country stakeholders and their donor counterparts work.
The Declaration is not a soft option for developing countries. It calls on them to create their own poverty reduction strategies, translate these into results-driven programmes, and prioritise which programmes are most important. It correctly puts emphasis on higher quality systems as the counterpart to donors making greater use of them. The ability to deliver on these commitments may mean that staff in developing country governments need to bring new skills to the table when sitting down with donors.
But the Declaration has some tough messages for donors too. For example, there is a demanding target for showing aid flows transparently in recipient government budgets, and another about providing aid more reliably over a multi-year framework so that developing countries can plan and predict aid flows over a number of years, and know that they can complete programmes.
Greater predictability may require a re-think in donor capitals as to how the long-term nature of aid is handled in each annual budget, and how to explain this to their citizens. Field staff may need to be brought up to speed on how to manage multi-year funding from the field. Their success at bringing the commitments in the Paris Declaration to life should be recognised by HQs back in capitals, and acknowledged in some way, perhaps in performance reviews.
I see the Paris Declaration as a practical set of guidelines on how to do our job better. The real test of its success will not be found in the outcome of the High Level Forum or even in September when the United Nations Summit takes place. It will be found in the field where I hope to see it stuck on dusty office walls, well-thumbed, well-used and above all – useful.