The delayed development assistance platform, which is now out for immediate consultation, suffers from at least five ambiguities that should be addressed before it is submitted to the Riksdag. That is the opinion of Bertil Odén, a writer with long experience of development aid and development issues.
The overstretched, turbulence-creating and severely delayed aid platform is now out for a quick round of consultation, before it is submitted to the Riksdag in the form of a government letter. The background is the criticism the government has received from both the OECD and the State Treasury that the management of Swedish development assistance was unclear, the number of governing documents for many and the priorities difficult to understand.
How has the platform managed to create clarity in these difficult issues?
The short answer is "like that".
The platform is a serious attempt to structure Swedish development assistance's policy guidelines within a partially reformulated goal hierarchy. On the plus side, it should be added that a number of different policy documents have been gathered in one place, as well as the ambition to make the policy clearer. The prioritization of bilateral countries in bilateral aid, as well as the exemptions for non-free middle-income countries, are examples of this. That aid should focus on the needs of individuals and not on states and governments is repeated at least seven times. On the other hand, very little is said about what this may mean for long-term bilateral cooperation.
It is also good that the continued performance management should not mean that development assistance is focused on easily measurable short-term results. Also that its goal is to gain knowledge about what works well, as a basis for better decisions about the continued direction. It is also to be hoped that the Government's efforts “to reduce the reporting burden on the development assistance administration and the implementers of Swedish development assistance, including civil society organizations” will be successful.
However, the platform suffers from at least five ambiguities that should be resolved in the final version.
The first concerns its status in relation to target documents previously decided by the Riksdag, in particular the Bill on Policy for Global Development from 2003. The second is how the change in the wording of the overall development assistance goal is to be interpreted. The third is that although the previous policy documents have been brought together on one platform, the priorities between them are still unclear. The fourth is how the donor perspective that permeates the text is intended to be reconciled with what is said about recipient influence and the Paris Agenda about the effectiveness of aid. The fifth, finally, is whether the overarching goal and the six sub-goals will really apply to all development assistance.
1) Status of the platform. The introduction states "The platform brings together the Government's overall development policy direction and priorities." The overall goal is the wording that was decided when the budget bill for 2014 was adopted by the Riksdag. To this is added to the platform six sub-goals "which all work together and contribute to the overall goal". After the consultation process, the Platform shall be sent to the Riksdag in the form of a government letter.
It is unclear what status the six new sub-goals will then have in relation to the main features of the bill for a Policy for Global Development that was adopted by the Riksdag in 2003. Some of the sub-goals overlap with these main features, while others, e.g. separate sub-goals for health and humanitarian aid, have no direct equivalent in the PGU bill.
Should the sub-goals work in parallel with the main features or are these repealed? The three thematic priorities (democracy and human rights, environment and climate as well as gender equality and the role of women in development) that were decided by the Riksdag in the Budget Bill for 2008 are apparently intended to be replaced by the new sub-goals: “The Government's three thematic priorities and is taken care of by the six sub-goals. "
The introduction to the Platform states that it “… is the starting point for the government's control of Swedish development assistance. Here, important principles and values are gathered that will guide Swedish development assistance, and the focus of development assistance is also described here… ”. In the following text, it is sometimes unclear what is to be interpreted as general expressions of will with a guiding function and what is intended as guiding principles.
2) The interpretation of the main wording's changed wording. From 2003, when the PGU bill was adopted, up to and including the budget bill for 2013, the overall goal for Swedish development assistance has been "to contribute to creating conditions for poor people to improve their conditions." Poor people act in this process and the role of development assistance is to contribute to the conditions for this.
Following the Riksdag's consideration of the Budget Bill for 2014, the wording has been changed to “create conditions for improved living conditions for people living in poverty and oppression”. That wording is also used in the Platform and involves two changes. On the one hand, it becomes unclear who will improve the conditions of the poor people - themselves or development aid, and on the other hand, poverty and oppression have been placed side by side and thus created another problem of interpretation. Is the target group of people living in both poverty and oppression or is one of these criteria enough? The addition is also unnecessary because the so-called broad concept of poverty that was already used included a lack of power, democracy and human rights.
This may seem like hair-splitting, but can also be linked to one's basic view. Should development assistance be seen as an instrument to support responsible actors in a partner country, or are these seen as objects of development aid care?
The focus that is promised feels distant when what is stated under the various sub-goals together seems to provide space for most activities.
3) The platform should provide clear focus, but the priorities are still unclear. The compilation of the policy documents made under the six new sub-goals contains reasoning at various levels of detail - from basic theory to trivial operational comments. The many orientations, goals, expressions of will and and other information under the various headings result in it being difficult to find the priorities between them and in relation to the other sub-goals. The focus that is promised feels distant when what is stated under the various sub-goals together seems to provide space for most activities.
Some opinions on how the strong and often repeated Swedish priorities in the platform should be reconciled with the Paris Agenda's principles of the recipient's "ownership" and partnership based on trust would increase clarity.
4) A very strong donor perspective permeates most of the platform. At the same time, it is stated that Sweden has undertaken to comply with international agreements on effective aid (the Paris Declaration, the Action Plan from Accra and the Partnership from Busan) and that the aid must be adapted to the country context. Some opinions on how the strong and often repeated Swedish priorities in the platform should be reconciled with the Paris Agenda's principles of the recipient's "ownership" and partnership based on trust would increase clarity.
5) Does the platform's target hierarchy apply to all activities within heading 7 International aid? There are ambiguities in the wording both with regard to aid to the Eastern Partnership, and the Western Balkans, as well as Turkey, multilateral aid and the Swedish contributions to the European Commission's aid. On the one hand, it is stated that the platform refers to "the priorities and focus of the overall Swedish development assistance, ie heading 7 International development assistance, and Sweden's commitment to European Union assistance."
Regarding the countries of the Eastern Partnership, the Western Balkans and Turkey, it is stated that some of the countries do not fall under the criterion of poor or unfree countries, but that rapprochement with the EU is central to these countries' efforts to strengthen democracy and implement reforms. The Government therefore considers it important to support these countries' rapprochement with the EU, as well as to strengthen democracy and increase respect for human rights. "This strengthens the fight against poverty and reform efforts in Sweden's immediate area."
At the same time, it is said that the sub-goals constitute the focus of Swedish bilateral development assistance. "On the other hand, the activities of multilateral organizations and the EU can be broader than the six sub-goals. However, the follow-up of aid-financed multilateral cooperation and aid cooperation through the EU will be carried out in relation to the six sub-objectives of the platform. "
In both cases there is a need for clarification.