The Government's budget for 2016 contains ambitious plans for development assistance. The challenge will be to resist the political spinal cord reaction to be involved everywhere and be prepared to downgrade some of the areas, writes aid expert Bertil Odén.
During the Association for Development Affairs' annual breakfast seminar on Monday, Minister for Development Aid Isabella Lövin presented the main lines of the 2016 budget. The presentation and the subsequent hearing gave rise to reflections on some of the challenges that the budget's ambitious goals create when the activities are to be implemented.
Compared with the previous government's corresponding documents, this budget has a number of positive elements. It does not breathe the same hysterical demands to show short-term results of the Swedish efforts' effects at the macro level. Instead, it is based on the realization that Swedish development assistance is one of many grants together with domestic and other external resources. It increases the proportion of Sida's assistance that goes to long-term bilateral cooperation somewhat. It strengthens climate and environmental assistance. The long-term perspective was emphasized several times by the Minister for Development Aid during the seminar.
The new sustainability goals must be integrated
One challenge is how to integrate the extremely ambitious 2030 agenda for sustainable global development into Swedish development cooperation. According to the Minister for Development Aid, the budget means that greater efforts will be made in three areas: climate and the environment, gender equality and peace and government building. These three areas have long been Swedish parade branches. How should Sweden relate to all other areas?
It is inevitable that a small country like Sweden cannot be a world leader in all areas. The challenge will be to resist the political spinal cord reaction to be everywhere and be prepared to downplay some of the areas. For a politician, this is difficult.
Asylum costs can be high
A budget financial challenge is what happens if / when the settlement for asylum costs becomes higher than the one on which the budget is based. The refugee costs for 2016 are based on a forecast of 73 asylum seekers. By mid-September 000, 2015 had been registered, which indicates a significantly higher number for the whole of 70 and thus also significantly higher settlements. The Minister for Development Aid flagged that the settlements may be larger than expected in 000.
Such a development would mean that cuts in development assistance need to be implemented at short notice. In addition to the extensive financial loss, there is thus also a jerk in development aid planning and the fact that activities under preparation must be slowed down.
Difficult with planning
At least as important is that the disorder that results from rapid budget changes also creates problems in the planning of partner countries and other actors. In order to limit this jerk, a maximum ceiling for how much of the asylum costs that can be taken from the development assistance budget should be introduced.
The rapid increase in the number of asylum seekers shows more clearly than ever how quickly and sharply the scope for actual assistance can be reduced with the current settlement model. The Minister for Development Aid mentioned in general terms that this puts the issue in a new light, and that discussion is ongoing in the Government Offices on how the situation should be handled. At this point, perhaps we can still expect some restrictions on the asylum system's erosion of actual aid. For the Minister of Finance, however, the current system is a convenient buffer.
Swedish priorities before local ownership?
The question of how the Swedish thematic priorities can be combined with the partner countries' ownership of their own development has always existed in bilateral cooperation. The Minister for Development Aid emphasized that "we must stand up" for the Swedish priorities. But where does the principle that our partners should be able to count on their priorities matter?
The Paris Declaration's talk of ownership and partnership suddenly feels distant. The question is straightforward, but a greater readiness to listen to the partner's wishes must be possible to combine with the Swedish priorities.
Must restore trust
An important task for Isabella Lövin and her team is to restore the confidence that the previous government's development aid policy managed to erode in many bilateral relations. The issue of dialogue with the partners will be crucial here, as will the government developing a new strategy for how it will be implemented in practice.
The Minister for Development Aid said that she "did not feel particularly concerned" that Sweden's competence and capacity would be insufficient to implement the high ambitions in the budget. Certainly there is Swedish capacity, including an increase in the business community's interest and competence, but is it sufficient? In any case, in my opinion, the experience-based capacity that previously existed at Sida, the universities and in the consulting industry must be recreated. This is also so that the embassies will be able to conduct a competent dialogue and so that the preparation and evaluation of the activities will be of sufficient quality.
It will be most exciting to see what the concrete measures look like, which concern the implementation of the global sustainability goals in Sweden. Intensive preparation of this is underway in the Government Offices.