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Archive for November, 2010

MFAN Partner on the Tea Party and the President’s Global Development Policy

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010
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Sarah Jane StaatsLast week, MFAN member Sarah Jane Staats, director of policy outreach at the Center for Global Development, posted a piece on CGD’s Rethinking US Foreign Assistance blog taking a closer look at how the new divided Congress will impact global development policy. After noting that it is unclear where Tea Partiers stand on many foreign policy issues, she argues the general emphasis on reigning in government spending could benefit the reform agenda. She also notes the potential impact on trade issues and specific presidential initiatives like the Global Health Initiative and Feed the Future. Click here to read MFAN Principal John Norris’ piece for more on Tea Party foreign policy and see below for key excerpts from Staats’ piece:

“Of course, aid is about more than money; how rich countries design their aid programs is as important as how much they give. In this sense, the pressure on the budget could help drive aid reforms and force the administration and Congress to make tough choices about where and how we spend our aid dollars and push for stronger evidence on what works in development. The push to be more selective with our development assistance, focus on economic growth, and do a better job of measuring impact and results (and share it publicly) is already lined up in the presidential policy directive on U.S. global development policy and seems like a reform mantle that both parties could get behind.”

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Lives in the Balance: Improving Accountability for Public Spending in Developing Nations

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010
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brookingsOn November 8, The Brookings Institution hosted a discussion of Lives in the Balance: Improving Accountability for Public Spending in Developing Nations with authors Charles Griffin, Nonresident Senior Fellow at Brookings and Senior Advisor at the World Bank; and Courtney Tolmie, Senior Program Officer with the Results for Development Institute.  Following Griffin and Tolmies’ presentations was a panel discussion on the future steps and challenges to strengthening the demand for better governance.  The panel was moderated by Daniel Kaufmann, Senior Fellow at Brookings, and panelists included Warren Krafchik, Director for the International Budget Partnership; Joseph Asunka, former Research and Program Officer at the Ghana Center for Democratic Development; and Jorge Quiroga, former President of Bolivia.

Griffin and Tolmie focused their conversation around the best ways to ensure the effectiveness of public spending.  Griffin emphasized that it is important not to discount the necessity of top-down accountability working in tandem with bottom-up accountability.  This combination will lead to greater success in aid effectiveness overall.  To improve bottom-up accountability, Griffin suggested encouraging civil society demand for good governance through effective advocacy.  Government-led solutions to bolster accountability include increasing budget transparency and taking better advantage of the resources of independent monitoring organizations.india health clinic

Tolmie reiterated the need for budget transparency discussing broadly the results of the Open Budget Index which show that few nations provide extensive budgetary information to the public.  Moreover, she discussed the challenge of civil society organizations in “gaining the ear” of policy makers when they have good ideas. Tolmie gave the example of civil society organizations in India joining together to increase the accountability of doctors in health clinics.  Many health clinics in India were plagued by frequent absences of doctors until civil society organizations created an accountability campaign which consisted of simply listing the days and hours doctors were working.

The panelists all called for strengthening government through the empowerment of citizens.  Warren stressed the fact that budget accountability has come a long way in the past fifteen years.  He contends that it is “an issue of political will, not of capacity”; access to public information, coupled with greater opportunity for civil engagement in the budget processes.  While these are all necessary components to increasing effectiveness in public spending, one of the challenges is the current structure of the donor-recipient relationship.  By revamping this framework so that government officials focus less on the requests of international donors, more time can be spent addressing the needs of their civilian populations.

The panelists all underscored that one solution to empower citizens is through increasing the freedom of access to information on government activities.  Additionally, civil service organizations can play an important role in educating government officials on critical issues facing the nations before these officials vote on budgets.  Only through the cooperation of citizens, civil society organizations, and governments can greater effectiveness in public spending be achieved.

MFAN Partner Sees Aid Transparency as an Emerging Bipartisan Issue

Monday, November 8th, 2010
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See below for a guest post from MFAN Partner Publish What You Fund who argues that aid transparency, given the focus on accountability and transparency on both sides of the aisle, has the potential to emerge as a bipartisan issue in the new political environment.

PWYFlogo-RGB- lo_r1Aid Transparency: Emerging common ground

The shift to Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives means aid transparency is set to emerge as an area of common ground.

As Representative John Boehner (R-OH) said in July this year, “The American people [...] deserve to be a part of an open and transparent process”. Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) highlighted just last month that “much of the raw data about government spending and performance is not accessible” and has stated “The ultimate goal is full transparency and accountability” in a conversation referring to unanswered Freedom of Information requests.

Members of both parties have shown their commitment to greater transparency and an open government to ensure accountability and value for money to taxpayers. Recently launched websites such as data.gov, recovery.gov, and usaspending.gov now allow citizens to see how their tax dollars are spent and where their money is going.

The day after the midterm elections President Obama said “I think the American people want to see more transparency, more openness. [...] And I think if you take Republicans and Democrats at their word this is an area that they want to deliver on for the American people”.

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UNDP Roundtable Discussion: Iraq’s Development Challenges

Thursday, November 4th, 2010
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On November 2, panelists at the UNDP Washington Roundtable on “Iraq’s Development Challenges” discussed the achievements that have been made as well as the significant challenges still faced in the development of Iraq.  Frederick Tipson, Director of UNDP Washington, moderated the discussion between two panelists: Christine McNab, the Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq; John Desrocher, Director of US Department of State Office of Iraq Affairs; and Leslie Campbell, Regional Director for the Middle East & North Africa at the National Democratic Institute.

The broad conservation focused on several reform principles including transparency, accountability, partnership, and the need for country ownership and using local systems to produce sustainable results.  McNab emphasized the role of development, saying that it was in our humanitarian and political interest to be in Iraq.  The cost of doing nothing was illustrated by a comparison McNab made to education: “If you think education is expensive, think about the alternative, ignorance.”

Overall, the panelists noted that while there have been some accomplishments in achieving better living standards in Iraq, many problems remain.  Key challenges discussed include:

1.       Education

2.       Rebuilding the State- Public and private sectors

3.       Rule of Law

4.       Security

The panelists echoed one another saying the lack of secondary education has contributed to a gap in expertise in Iraq, making it difficult to improve development in other areas.  Many young Iraqi’s are looking for jobs that cannot be found in the dilapidated public and private sectors of the economy.  Desrocher gave an example of how agriculture should be a great employer in Iraq but is not a successful industry due to its centralized, outdated approach.

The panelists also underscored how building capacity in legal institutions will be an important step towards reducing corruption.  They argued that a grounded legal and regulatory system will be instrumental in encouraging business to both develop in and come to Iraq.  Additionally, the panel noted how businesses face difficulties with security; currently doing business in Iraq is very expensive because of the need for security.  For example, UN staff working in Iraq find security in anonymity and locals are better positioned to carry out development work because they would not be identified with the U.N.

Campbell underscored the fact that Iraq is actually much more politically developed than many other Middle Eastern countries.  There is not much consensus, however, that the current political system is better than what was previously in Iraq.  It will be necessary to educate the Iraqi people on the benefits of a democratic system of government.

To watch video coverage of the event, click here.

MFAN Principal Offers 5 Ways the New Congress Can Work Together

Thursday, November 4th, 2010
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As the dust settles from the Mid-term elections, MFAN Principal and executive director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Center for American Progress John Norris finds ways in which the newly-elected Tea Partiers can work with the Obama administration and democrats. In an op-ed for Foreign Policy, he lists five foreign policy issues in which the otherwise “natural enemies” could find common ground. These include:

  • Afghanistan and Iraq
  • Cutting Defense spending
  • Reforming foreign aid
  • Cutting agricultural subsidies
  • Taking on earmarks

On foreign assistance reform, Norris writes:

“While foreign aid has often been demonized by conservatives, progressives and Tea Partiers alike should be able to find some common ground around recent efforts by the Obama administration to tighten and refine international development programs. The White House’s plans for development programs, recently announced after a major strategy review, focus on fewer countries with a distinct emphasis on working with reform-minded governments to nurture broad-based economic growth. The Tea Partiers should also appreciate the administration’s recognition that foreign assistance needs to be more focused on results and that some of the biggest proponents of development assistance are the unimpeachable voices of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen. Progressives should laud the fact that the administration seems newly willing to consider key factors like a country’s human rights record in determining whether it is a good candidate for aid. One big caveat here: Foreign aid is always an easy target for the budget ax, and if development programs are gutted, reform will be almost impossible to make operational. Rep. Eric Cantor’s recent suggestion that aid to Israel should be decoupled from the rest of the foreign operations budget to make cuts to other programs easier is just the first signal of what might be many tussles over aid funding.”

Norris notes that the Tea party philosophy when it comes to defense spending is mixed, but if they stick to their belief in balancing the budget, than defense will certainly need a closer look. He also argues that tackling earmarks – “pet projects” that often distort foreign policy and development objectives – is an area both parties generally agree could use reform. Norris concludes, “It would be naive to think that the bruising 2010 midterm election will leave in its wake sunny harmony, particularly on the foreign-policy front. But it would be equally mistaken to assume that a divided government is incapable of getting anything done — especially on key areas of foreign policy, where unexpected alignments might actually bring the extremes of both parties across the aisle. Washington has always made for strange bedfellows, and 2011 should be no exception.”