The Paris Declaration and the aid effectiveness agenda
The Paris Declaration is the latest incarnation of the aid effectiveness agenda, which
sets out to simplify and improve existing official development assistance (ODA). It
originates at the 2002 Monterrey Conference on development finance, and was
reworked as the Rome Declaration in 2003. In March 2005 the High Level Forum on
Aid Harmonisation was held in Paris, giving rise to the Paris Declaration. The next
milestone in the aid effectiveness agenda will be the third High Level Forum in Accra,
Ghana in 2008. The EU, OECD, multilateral financing institutions, UN agencies and
several non-OECD countries including Russia, India and China, and aid recipient
countries are signatories to the Declaration.
Currently, aid presents recipient governments with a plethora of different forms of
appraisal, approval, reporting, and evaluation procedures. The aid effectiveness
agenda aims to improve the cost-effectiveness of ODA by simplifying procedural
requirements and by focusing aid on the priorities of recipient countries. The aid
effectiveness agenda is run by the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness at the OECD’s
Development Assistance Committee (DAC). According to the Paris Declaration’s
Statement of Resolve, its components are
- Ownership: “Partner countries exercise effective leadership over their
development policies, and strategies and coordinate development actions”
- Alignment: “Donors base their overall support on partner countries’ national
development strategies, institutions and procedures”
- Harmonisation: “Donors implement common arrangements and simplify
- Managing for results: “Managing resources and improving decision-making
- Mutual accountability: “Donors and partners are accountable for development
The most substantial sections of the Paris Agenda are aid alignment and aid
Aid alignment focuses aid delivery on partner country priorities, and ensures that the
country has the strategic and financial capacity to implement them. It strives to make
aid delivery more prompt, and to decrease tied aid. Aid harmonisation calls for
donors to coordinate their activities and eliminate duplication.
These aims are set out in twelve indicators of progress. At the moment the indicators
are expressed in quite vague terms, e.g. “Reduce by 2/3 the stock of Parallel
Implementation units”. The year 2006 is being spent gathering data on the different
indicators, to provide sharper numerical targets for the year 2010.
Issues at hand
The Paris Declaration deals only with bilateral and multilateral aid to governments.
Implicit in the agenda is that ODA should increasingly be channelled in that way –
through recipient government budgets. But by only considering the budgetary level, it
ignores the wider social and economic forces among which bilateral aid is supposed
to alleviate poverty and inequality. This seems to represent an atavism in
development thinking – a return to state-centred development. INTRAC argues that
such policy back-tracking – specifically, bypassing civil society - will sap the positive
potential of the aid effectiveness agenda.
The aid effectiveness agenda is also vulnerable to the problems imposed by ground
realities. Some of these are listed in the Paris Declaration as “remaining challenges”
(paragraph 4) which the Declaration states “commit ourselves to taking concrete and
effective action on”. These “challenges” include lack of institutional capacity in
recipient countries, unpredictability of aid flows, insufficient delegation of authority in
the field, mismatch between global initiatives and national development agendas,
and corruption. However, the Declaration does not inform us what “concrete and
effective action” is being taken. SIDA has began to question how civil society’s
positive contributions can continue if they are excluded from these processes, and
what action a donor should take if civil society organisations are oppressed.
Channelling aid exclusively through government makes marginalised people
vulnerable to political change among both state and donors.
The most obvious pitfall for this approach is governance and corruption: there are no
guarantees that the money will actually have a poverty-reducing impact. As a
palliative, the Paris Agenda documents and the NGO Statement on Aid
Harmonisation both stress “the need for recipient government capacity building”, but
this is not something that can be achieved quickly or easily. The Paris Declaration
commits recipient countries to integrate capacity building into their national
development strategies (para 23). With many donor governments already committed
to centralised budget support, this is an area where thoroughgoing revisions and
reconsiderations may be difficult, and there is a risk that improvements will be
restricted to fragmented and ineffectual capacity building activities.
The agenda refers frequently to recipient countries’ National Development Strategies,
which are presumed to be based on “broad consultative processes” (para 17, 48).
The track record of actual consultation, e.g. in PRSP negotiations, is not encouraging
- civil society’s input in these has often remained cosmetic. This is the only paragraph
of the Declaration that can be interpreted as hinting at civil society involvement in the
national development strategies, but it does so very obliquely: “Partner countries
commit to…Reinforce participatory approaches by systematically involving a broad
range of development partners…[in] national development strategies”. An
explanatory OECD article (2005 Development Co-Operation report) mentions
“reinforcing the role of civil society”, but the original Statement of Resolve makes no
Aid harmonisation as a trend concentrates development initiatives in recipient
state priorities. Is it feasible for such high-level general budget mechanisms to
“increase the impact aid has in reducing poverty and inequality, increasing
growth, building capacity and accelerating the achievement of MDGs”?
Even in a democratic state, it is not necessarily the role, nor the priority of civil
society to achieve centrally agreed development goals. Civil society does not
exist to assist governments to meet their targets as this would reduce them to
an instrument of the state. A drive towards centralised ODA undermines civil
society – which should be valued because of its diversity and independence,
not because it is an extension of the state. What steps can be taken to
strengthen civil society in such a case?
Aid harmonisation will probably mean that funding is diverted from Northern
international NGOs to Southern governments. This removes one aid channel
that has focused especially closely on the poverty alleviation and
empowerment aspects of development. What is the role for Northern civil
society – both in the pessimistic and the ideal scenarios?
Linda Lönnqvist, INTRAC 26 April 2006
Official Donor NGO Forum, Stockholm 18-19 May 2006