Aid Minister Johan Forsell (M) and State Secretary Diana Janse invited civil society to get input on the aid reform agenda - which will be drawn up during the year. During the meeting, several organizations highlighted that it is unclear what the government actually means by effective aid. Photo: FUF.


Civil society in a meeting with the minister of aid: "Uncertainty and lack of clarity in politics"

During Friday met several civil society organizations Aid Minister Johan Forssell (M) and State Secretary Diana janse for to discuss the reform agenda for the aid – to be designed under 2023. The link between trade and aid and what effective and transparent aid actually means were some of them the discussion points.  

After the 2022 election, the new government scrapped the goal of allocating one percent of GNI to aid and instead introduced a three-year budget framework of SEK 56 billion per year for the period 2023 through 2025. This year, a reform agenda will be worked out, and the purpose of the meeting with civil society was to get opinions and suggestions on how to design effective, transparent and long-term aid.

In an introductory presentation, Johan Forssell described, among other things, the aid's priorities, one of which is to tie the aid closer to trade and Swedish companies.

- Trade and aid are not two different things, but two sides of the same coin, says Johan Forssell.

He pointed, among other things, to Denmark and Finland - which have made similar priorities in the past.

- We are convinced that the direction is the right one.

However, several organizations raised concerns about this prioritization, and the risk that more aid goes to countries with a functioning trade structure, and less to conflict-affected low-income countries with which trade is not possible.

- There is great concern that the aid is moving towards countries that are already middle-income countries, that have a certain stability and a functioning rule of law, says Mattias Brunander, Acting General Secretary at Diakonia. He continues:

- It is important not to leave countries where the need for aid is greatest.

Amira Malik Miller, policy advisor at Fair Trade Sweden, also pointed to the risk that the most vulnerable, who should be a priority for aid, are not reached with this focus.

- Trade does not de facto build prosperity for everyone in the world, she says.

During the meeting, several organizations also pointed out the importance of starting the aid from the needs of local actors - rather than those of the implementers.

"Obscurity in politics has contributed to inefficiency"

Another central part of the meeting was efficiency in aid, and how Sweden can "achieve the greatest possible results in what we do". But several organizations felt that the government is unclear about what they actually mean by efficiency, not least because of the cuts and reprioritizations that the government has made in aid.

- Several decisions have been made where we don't really see that this analysis has been done, says Niklas Eköv, advisor at the Swedish Mission Council.

- It is not very efficient to terminate contracts so abruptly. You need to think about the effects of such decisions, says Judith McCallum, director of the Life and Peace Institute (LPI), and refers to the government's cuts in aid.

- Uncertainty and lack of clarity within politics have contributed to it (inefficiency, editor's note), says Cecilia Nilsson Kleffner, operations manager at Concord Sweden.

Another priority issue during Friday's meeting was how to increase the transparency of aid, so that it is easier to follow how resources are used and benefited.

Britt-Louise Andersson, influence and communications manager at ForumCiv, believes that communication is an important tool for transparency, but also for the willingness of the Swedish population to help.

- It has become more difficult when the infocom funds have decreased, she says.

But the government has a different point of view.

- Aid funds do more good abroad than in Sweden, says Johan Forssell in his speech.

There will be more meetings about the reform agenda

During the meeting, Johan Forssell also highlighted several of the government's other priorities in aid, including Ukraine, humanitarian aid and democracy and human rights. According to the minister for aid, the government also wants to increase climate aid and the focus on women and gender equality. But just like at previous meetings with civil society it was emphasized that it is about prioritizing - and prioritizing away.

- We will not be able to prioritize everything. You just have to like the situation, says Johan Forssell.

According to both Johan Forssell and Diana Janse, the meeting was one of several that will be held with civil society during the design of the reform agenda.

- You are crucial to this work, says Johan Forssell to the civil society organisations.

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