Debate

Some strategic choices for Swedish development assistance

How should Sweden relate to the international development trends? What happens to the recipient countries' influence in times of increased performance management? Should Sweden provide assistance to dictatorship regimes? The inherent conflicts of interest in the policy pursued must be discussed and choices made, Bertil Odén writes.

Poverty, raw materials and energy supplies, climate and environmental threats and the Western world's economic crisis are some of the global challenges in the shadow of which international and Swedish development assistance is acting. In recent years, new theories, trends and actors have emerged and influenced the direction and forms of international aid, blurred the boundaries between aid and other policy areas and made the division of the world into "developed" and "developing" countries increasingly meaningless.

Following the UN Conference on Sustainable Development 20-22 June (Rio + 20), two new but not yet very well-defined concepts have been given a central place in the international development aid discussion - "green economy" and "sustainable development goals". In other respects, the declaration from the conference contains many assurances that the commitments made twenty years ago stand firm - a kind of "on the spot march". In addition to the decisions from the Rio + 20 meeting, the next years' international aid discussion will certainly be about how the high-level meeting in Busan on increased aid efficiency will be implemented and what the sustainable development goals will look like that are intended to replace the Millennium Development Goals after 2015.

In parallel with - and of course also influenced by the changed external framework and the international development trends - the government has been working since 2006 to reform Swedish development policy. This has resulted in a number of new policy documents and proposals. In fact, so many and so poorly coordinated that the State Treasury in a critical report at the end of 2011 stated that they do not function as a control instrument for Swedish development assistance.

Now that an equally intensive work is underway at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to rectify this by merging the various documents into one with the working name development aid policy platform, it may be appropriate to consider some of the choices facing the Swedish government in the area of ​​development assistance.

Global challenges and international development assistance processes must be met, at the same time as the thinking behind the Swedish development assistance reforms must be updated and changed, especially where Swedish development assistance has driven itself into dead ends.

The list of route choices can be made long, but the space does not allow any excesses, so here are five examples.

Fix PGU politics pyspunka.

With regard to PGU policy and the coherence between the various policy areas, the reform ambitions were initially high. The most important document in this process was the government letter in 2008 in which the government to concretize the concept of coherence and make PGU more action-oriented focused its work on six global challenges: oppression, economic exclusion, climate change and environmental impact, migratory flows, infectious diseases and other health threats and conflicts and failing situations. . For each of these, three focus areas were defined.

The idea was that measurable goals for these would be set, but some such have not yet been presented.  In addition, implementation objectives were formulated in four areas: governance, organization and follow-up; collaboration with Swedish actors, knowledge and analysis; and action at EU level. Some measures have been implemented in terms of governance, organization and EU action, while the analysis capacity seems to be under dismantling. In general, it feels as if the Swedish Policy for Global Development in recent years has been affected by pyspunk, which no one had the power or will to remedy.

The punk punk of PGU policy is primarily due to too weak political support in the government and a weak opposition.

This is unfortunate because today's global challenges more than ever would need to be met with an effective policy of coherence, including the open reporting and resolution of existing conflicts of objectives between different policy areas. The government promised PGU letter to the Riksdag would have come in the spring, but is delayed. The PGU barometer as a number of voluntary organizations presented some time ago, pedagogically points to the imminent need to improve coherence on a number of points, including arms exports, tax evasion from poor countries, migration, trade and climate policy.

The punk punk of PGU politics is primarily due to weak political support in the government and a weak opposition. The limited capacity that the Government Offices puts in place to pursue PGU policy is also a sign of this.

The PGU perspective needs to be strengthened and return to the original idea, namely that decisions in other policy areas should not run counter to the development perspective.

Where should the balance point between meeting global challenges and long-term bilateral development cooperation lie?

When the government adopted a strategy for multilateral development assistance in 2007, the main purpose was for the contributions to the international organizations to be more clearly linked to the extent to which they worked in line with the Swedish development assistance goals. Initially, some effort was made to implement this, but the capacity set aside for the purpose was very limited and from the outside it seems that the air has gone out of this activity as well.

Despite this, Swedish development assistance has increasingly been channeled through multilateral organizations and the proportion distributed according to thematic criteria has increased. One of the reasons is the increased focus on global initiatives and programs to meet challenges in areas such as climate, environment, spread of epidemic diseases, management of migratory flows. The need for improved international regulations to address these and other cross-border issues is imminent. That this type of assistance is given more space is therefore not unreasonable. The question is how far the trend should be drawn.

The trend towards increased thematisation and multilateralisation of Swedish development assistance risks marginalizing traditional long-term bilateral development cooperation, which has contributed to important reforms and changes in many of the partner countries.

The other side of this trend is that the traditional long-term bilateral cooperation with individual countries is declining in scope. Within this long-term co-operation, the introduction of stronger performance management and reduced trust on the part of Sweden has meant that the dialogue between the parties has become more focused on control and performance reporting and that the partner country's involvement in shaping country strategies (or "results offers" as it will be called in the future)

Within the framework of the thematic perspective, there is also a choice between long-term niche Swedish development assistance in some subject areas, including those that are neglected by other actors, or hanging on to all international trends.

The trend towards increased thematisation and multilateralisation of Swedish development assistance risks marginalizing traditional long-term bilateral development cooperation, which has contributed to important reforms and changes in many of the partner countries.

A clearer focus on the multilateral organizations that work best in relation to the Swedish development assistance goals and selectivity in terms of which new international and global initiatives and programs that Sweden should support would create a clearer Swedish profile and provide continued scope for long-term bilateral development assistance.

Poverty reduction through direct action for the poor or through economic growth, created by the private sector? A renaissance of redistributive aid issues?

The overall goal of development aid - to help create the conditions for poor people to improve their living conditions - has been in place for fifty years, albeit with slightly different wording. However, the view of how this should be done has changed. Previous focus on distribution issues and activities that were aimed directly at the poor certainly remains in the form of support for the Millennium Development Goals.

However, the main focus of Swedish development assistance's attempts to reduce poverty in the world is now to increase economic growth, primarily through increased support for the private sector. This in turn raises the question of whether assistance with this purpose should primarily support institutions, regulations and infrastructure to improve the private sector's opportunities to work or whether it should primarily be channeled directly to business actors.

As a basis, it would be interesting to make a comparative analysis of what is most effective when it comes to reducing poverty - direct assistance to the business community and direct poverty-oriented assistance, including social protection networks and conditional cash support.

The importance of the distribution of income and other resources within the partner countries has played an extremely limited role in Swedish development policy since 2006. The fact that the issue is now beginning to return may be due to the fact that it received increasing international attention ahead of the Rio + 20 summit. It will probably take a greater place in the international development discussion on poverty reduction in the future and thus hopefully also in Swedish development assistance.

How should effective performance management avoid undermining the principles of the Paris Declaration?

The work to make Swedish development assistance more results-oriented has intensified in recent years. During this period, performance management has been at the center of a number of donors, with the United Kingdom at the forefront and with strong support from Sweden.

Everyone is for aid to be effective and yield results. The form of performance management that is being introduced has created discussion among researchers and practitioners. An important issue is how to avoid creating short-term assistance where quantifiable activities are prioritized at the expense of, for example, support for institution building, reform processes and good governance, which are more difficult to measure and whose results are not visible until after a long time.

Another issue that needs to be discussed more openly and in more detail is how Swedish development assistance should handle the contradiction that may arise between the performance agenda and the principle that the recipients must feel that they “own” the activities supported by this development assistance.

Another issue that needs to be discussed more openly and in more detail is how Swedish development assistance should handle the contradiction that may arise between the performance agenda and the principle that the recipients must feel that they “own” the activities supported by this development assistance. This question complex also includes the choice of forms of development assistance and the conditions under which development assistance can be channeled through the partner countries' own institutions and in accordance with their regulations.

The forms of aid have been re-prioritized during the period from 2006. At that time, budget support was a cherished form of aid, partly because it was defined in the Paris Declaration as having great potential to increase transparency, mutual responsibility and ownership. The number of countries receiving Swedish general budget support has since halved and the Minister for Development Aid has stated that she wants to abolish this form completely in Swedish bilateral development assistance. However, this has aroused criticism from some of the alliance parties and the issue is under internal discussion between the governing parties.

Should Sweden provide assistance to dictatorship regimes? Which countries' governments are worthy recipients of Swedish aid?

Should Sweden support dictatorship regimes? The answer is no, but that does not necessarily mean that no Swedish aid can go to countries with such regimes, as it can also be passed on to other actors - regime-critical organizations, independent media, etc. PGU's principle of coherence is often put at the forefront, for example when this applies to arms exports, trade rules and EU agricultural policy.

Almost all development assistance supports activities in countries that are in a gray zone in almost all areas that are important in Swedish development assistance policy, including democracy, respect for human rights and good governance. It is also the case that the situation in all these areas is changing - sometimes stably in the same direction, but sometimes as a choppy curve backwards and forwards. The basic question is at what level the partner country should be at to qualify for Swedish development assistance, how to weigh direction and absolute level against each other and how to measure.

These issues are complex and can be avoided by closing down or at least reducing long-term bilateral cooperation and instead allocating resources to various global initiatives and international programs working on a specific theme. It often becomes more politically comfortable…

These issues are complex and can be avoided by closing down or at least reducing long-term bilateral cooperation and instead allocating resources to various global initiatives and international programs working on a specific theme. It often becomes more politically convenient because this creates another layer between the Swedish support and what happens in reality in the form of an organization or program administration. However, it does not exactly make it easier to be open and results-oriented in aid, especially if the capacity allocated to following international organizations is extremely limited and it has been greatly reduced for bilateral cooperation.

It sometimes feels as if the current development aid policy leadership is doubtful about the countries they themselves have chosen to cooperate with in the long term for a policy that is compatible with Swedish development aid policy goals and whether they can handle Swedish development aid funds responsibly. Which may not be the ideal starting point for collaboration.

Some desirable route choices
According to State Secretary Hanna Hellquist's presentation of the work on the new development assistance platform at the end of May, this is a major clean-up of development policy documents in the forest. In that case, it would be good if this cleaning could be combined with, among other things, establishing the following development aid policy options:

1) A powerful return to the original PGU thinking.

2) Clearer poverty orientation and distribution perspective in long-term bilateral cooperation.

3) Long-term focus on a few of the global challenges instead of trying to be everywhere.

4) Better balance between the rhetorical ambitions and the capacity set aside to implement them.

5) A sound approach to the performance agenda, which means that the long-term development assistance perspective can be maintained, as well as the openness and influence for our partners that makes it possible to achieve long-term sustainable results of Swedish development assistance.

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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