Brian Atwood chaired the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) until the end of 2012.
He is a renowned development expert and an international diplomat.
By shifting the focus of the DAC from “Development Aid” to “Effective Development” he helped to start a cultural revolution in the sector, favouring inclusiveness and cooperation rather that donor-driven development strategies.
The major shift in aid polices occurred at the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea, at the end of 2011. The Busan agreement was hailed as a new development manifesto, with new patterns and new criteria about aid.
Equal Times spoke to Atwood to find out how development policies are changing.
What would you say were the major achievements of Busan?
I think that the main point of the Busan agreement was that we will use country systems [the use of, among other things, a country's own administrative systems to deliver aid] as a default position and if we cannot use country systems we have to try to help those countries to develop the capacities.
Also, I think it was very significant the role of civil society and the concerns that civil society expressed, most of which were reflected in the agreement.
Most important being that if we believe in “country ownership”, that means ownership of the society, not of the governments. And that of course involves all the aspects of civil society, including the trade unions.
What about the partnership and involvement of China in this process?
China did endorse the agreement.
They have been through a transition but we hope that they will participate.
I think that the steering committee will also have to decide whether they will invite China, Brazil and India, the three largest of the emerging economies, to be observers initially and then hopefully, once they see that is a good place to share information and have a dialogue, they will agree to possibly even coach the steering committee in the future.
After Busan, there has been a shift away from the concept of “aid”. How relevant is that concept today?
Well, I don’t like the word “aid” because it implies some paternalism.
But I think that the shift away from aid was more toward an understanding that some other government policies also influenced development quite negatively.
Take agriculture subsidies, for example.
I think the Busan agreement showed that we should look at the domestic policies and what impact they have on development.
I believe that we have shifted to partnership, to development cooperation and to more policy coherence.
All these issues will be discussed in the Global Partnership [the eight Millennium Development Goal].
Do you think there should be some kind of regulatory framework to keep partners accountable?
The working party established ten major areas that we would do constant reviews, for which we would establish indicators and we would do reviews for the global partnership.
That kind of evidence will keep the pressure on, at least that is what we hope for.
We will keep looking at those global indicators and also looking at the countries themselves to see whether people are using country systems what results have been achieved, how the agreement of Busan has helped countries as they focus on their development strategies.
To what extent should this work on a binding or a voluntary basis?
Basically the agreements we have reached on these issues are not binding. It is very hard to bind sovereign countries.
We do peer reviews within the development system’s committee that every five years exposes these countries if they are not paying any attention to these agreements, then we publicly embarrass them.
So that is one form of pressure. My feeling is that the Global Partnership itself will continue to keep that pressure on because we will be hearing directly from partners.
How far can we meet the challenge of democracy and development, also considering human rights issues?
That is part of the Millennium declaration.
The problem is that countries interpret the way the want to interpret.
There is evidence that the people of a country cannot participate fully in the development of the country and the development results can’t be achieved.
So countries who abuse human rights and do not allow the full participation of their people, whether it is in civil society organisations like the trade unions or associations, they will not achieve their goals in development.
There is strong evidence that demonstrate that.
Another issue is that you can achieve development results in the short term through authoritarian methods but in the long term you cannot sustain that kind of progress, so you need to have democratic protections, you need to encourage people to become entrepreneurs, workers to organise, you need to allow other associations at the civil society level.
How do you see the trade unions’ role in development policies?
Trade unions in history have played an extraordinary important role, not only in fighting for workers’ rights, salaries and employment, but for the protection of all citizens in society, through better measures, better education.
In many cases they have been the force that has brought democratic change.
I only regret that they have become somewhat weaker, in the United States for instance, mainly because of money into politics.
It is more and more difficult for unions to raise money the way corporations do and actively influence to politics.