5 Responses

  1. Paul Hitschfeld
    Paul Hitschfeld July 27, 2016 at 10:41 pm

    While aid law and legislation in various donor countries provide an important framework for aid planning and delivery, we may be missing the point that aid itself, with its rules and constraints, may not be (any longer) the best instrument for helping developing countries. Traditional aid is bureaucratic, donor-driven and constrained by many political (and now security) concerns. Players other than governments are in the ascendency (NGOs, private sector investors, foundations, local capital, local civil society, etc.) and we should reduce our focus on “getting the rules right” for what is an old concept and focus instead on broadening aid flows and instruments. DAC rules and five-year donor “country strategies” are very much a 20th century construct, almost sovietish.

    Paul Hitschfeld
    Chair, Trade Facilitation Office of Canada (based in Ottawa, operating around the world).

    1. Jo Spratt
      Jo Spratt July 28, 2016 at 12:03 pm

      Thanks, Paul. I totally agree that there are many instruments and actors involved in any country’s development. Yet aid is still an important component, and persists as a tool governments use. Indeed, more countries are giving it. I’m not so sure it is going to go away anytime soon. Further, government aid can help leverage broader flows of money to developing countries, for development purposes. Given aid is money that often gets used for non-development purposes, I think it is useful making sure that the money that is spent gets spent well, and DAC rules help here, as do country strategies. I agree that rigid plans aren’t helpful – but a strategy does not have to be a plan. It can be a careful, context-aware relationship-based engagement that allows for flexibility and adaptability in the pursuit of well-being improvements. And as for rules, human-beings are norm-conformers: there are always rules, whether formal or informal, and while we can game the rules, they still shape how we behave and we can use them to positive ends if we get them right.

  2. Jo Spratt
    Jo Spratt July 27, 2016 at 8:18 am

    A timely blog from Ian Smillie at the McLeod Group on Canada’s Official Development Assistance Accountability Act – the law I am referring to in my comment above. I’m not clear in his blog whether he means the Act would be useful if Canada had an ‘Independent Commission for Aid Impact’-type entity, or whether the Act is forever useless.

    Broadens the conversation out a bit: what mechanisms of scrutiny external to the executive are effective in improving ODA quality?

  3. Jo Spratt
    Jo Spratt July 22, 2016 at 8:29 am

    Thanks Robin. Great to get a discussion going on this.

    Thanks for the greater analysis of the Pergau Dam case. It is an exemplar case of legislation’s use and so necessary to include in any discussion of ODA legislation. You’ve obviously got better information sources than me on that one. However, on the overall point re: purpose, the people I spoke with for the minor piece of research I did cited the existence of legislation for purpose as useful in their work defending ODA for poverty reduction (as well as the scandal). So I think there is more to the story, particularly how rules shape people’s perceptions (regardless of whether those perceptions are accurate) and therefore their actions.

    A correction in interpretation: I don’t think legislating for purpose is the ‘main’ use of aid legislation. If I implied that, I didn’t mean to. But I do think it should not be brushed off as not useful in legislation, particularly without any substantiation or empirical research on legislation’s real-world impact (opposed to content analysis). Your analysis here on the Pergau Dam case contributes further.

    Overall, when it comes to ODA, governments are not accountable to voters: voters do not benefit from ODA, they find it hard to get good information about ODA’s impact, and while they care about how it is spent, they do not really pay much attention to it. Scandals are rare and too few to ensure consistent and effective accountability. Hence the need for other mechanisms, and legislation is a useful one.

    I think this has been a really interesting discussion and I have much more to respond. But I’ll leave it there. It is a great topic to learn more about. Perhaps a place for some solid case studies, using robust research design, examining the empirical impact of legislation? I think there are laws in place that have not had any real-world impact when it was anticipated they would, and it is important to include analysis of those in any research – hence the importance of good case selection. It would also be great to engage lawyers and also examine the massive literature on institutions to see what insights they can add. Something to add to the ‘to-do’ list?

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