THE BLOG
29/11/2011 11:06 GMT | Updated 29/01/2012 05:12 GMT

Where's the International Leadership on International Development?

Busan should not just be another photo opportunity where leaders substitute rhetoric for action. This is an opportunity for the British government to really show the leadership they should on international development.

There is little question that the G20 summit this year in Cannes has been a failure - it failed to achieve any consensus on dealing with the global economic crisis and most particularly failed to offer any new hope of a solution to the eurozone problems. As the potentially catastrophic fallout in Greece and Italy is aptly demonstrating, with the potential for others to follow, this is not something the world can afford. And yet, in response to the potential downfall of the euro and the consequent dire fallout, the Prime Minister suggested that the eurozone needed to sort out its own problems. While on the surface this might not seem so ridiculous - we all want Europe to resolve its problems - what he was really saying is 'sort yourselves out or we'll let you drown'. This hardly sounds like the international leader David Cameron is keen to describe himself as.

From a development viewpoint, Cannes was undoubtedly an even bigger failure. Despite a recognition of the importance of jobs and growth in developing countries to the global economy; it would be fair to say that the final outcome of the conference, the commitments that have been made, are so weak and vague as to be virtually meaningless. Lacking much in the way of concrete actions and without specified timelines, the final declaration amounts to little more than a rather nice wish list. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in David Cameron's statement to parliament on his return from the G20 - while making reference to the suggestions from Bill Gates on development and to Cameron's refusal to support a financial transaction tax (FTT), he failed to provide a single concrete example of new policy or action that the Government will take to help the developing world deal with the fallout of the economic crisis.

In this economic climate, and with the possibility of substantial cuts to the US aid budget, making sure both donor countries and recipient countries get the most from the aid money we do have has never been more important. The aid effectiveness agenda is fundamental to this - if we don't commit to this, if we don't do development and aid as effectively as possible we will just end up spending more money in the long term. And without meaningful commitment and a firm timetable for action we will not achieve this.

Aid effectiveness is vitally important - it is about making sure that the money we spend on aid is spent effectively and that it works for recipient countries. Transparency of funding streams and programmes is fundamental to this. If donor and recipient countries don't know where and when money is being spent, their ability to plan and use the money effectively is limited. It is also a language that has allowed both donors and recipient countries to talk sensibly for the first time about aid and what it means for them without being incendiary and without falling into some of the unhelpful rhetoric that has characterised other international conferences like the G20.

With the Busan Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4) underway, we must do better. In Paris in 2005 and Accra in 2008 donors around the world agreed a set of key proposals, actions and indicators of progress - that developing countries own the strategy behind the programmes in their country, donors align behind these objectives, donors coordinate with each other, aid is results focused and that donors and recipient countries are mutually accountable to eachother.

HLF4 is an opportunity to consolidate these successes and move forward. This is a chance to do the necessary work to ensure we have the framework and ability to make real progress. But there is a danger that HLF4 will actually see a return to the old arguments and debates not about how we do what we know we need to do but whether we even do it at all. Already, some donor countries might try to remove commitments on aid transparency from the Busan outcome document. This would be a huge failure and one that we can ill-afford at the moment. While aid transparency is not going to solve all the problems of the development world, it is fundamental to being able to solve them - transparency will not stop corruption but it is a lot harder to beat corruption without it. It is vital not only for getting results but also for providing accountability to our taxpayers.

We have all committed to the basic principles set out in the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda, so Busan must be about the next steps. Donors need to agree a further timetable for implementation and a monitoring framework. Crucially, this needs to be all of us working together - it must be a multilateral effort. If one country pulls out of the transparency commitments they will be fundamentally undermined. If even one of the large donors is not involved in the transparency initiatives, there is a risk that they will become somewhat toothless and, worse, might just not really work.

Busan should not just be another photo opportunity where leaders substitute rhetoric for action. This is an opportunity for the British government to really show the leadership they should on international development. It's great that the Britain has led the way on some of these issues and we should be rightly proud of that but we have a responsibility to help bring the rest of the international and donor community with us. It is an opportunity we cannot allow to slip away.