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Holding politicians to account for aid pledges

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DUBAI, 29 March 2013 (IRIN) -

Humanitarian and development actors should develop a method to hold
politicians to account for aid pledges, UK Minister of State for
International Development Alan Duncan said.

"A promise is only a promise until it's in the bank," he told IRIN.
"It's exciting to get headline pledges, but it's important to make sure
that money translates on the ground."

He shared his idea at the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid &
Development (DIHAD) conference this week, telling participants:

"One thing that would help the whole system would be the establishment
of a universally accepted process under which any pledge to spend money
was registered, measured, monitored and implemented, because if a
politician wins the floors by making a promise, then he must be made to
follow it through with the concrete action that was promised."

The aid community has an increasing number of systems to track how
money is spent, but it has few systems to track pledges.

Get it in writing

One model, Duncan said, is the World Bank pledging process used in
Yemen last year, when states that collectively pledged US$8 billion
ney-go> in two pledging conferences signed on paper how much they had
pledged and what the money would go towards, "so that they can be held
to account."

The brain child of the idea was Wael Zakout, who manages the World
Bank's work in Yemen. With government support, he has created a system
whereby donors will meet with government officials every three months -
with media present - to report on four sets of figures: the original
pledge; the amount that has been programmed (the number of projects to
be financed and their amount); the amount in approved programmes, where
a project agreement has been signed between the donor and the
government; and the amount of money already disbursed. (The Yemeni
government is also developing a more detailed database to track

The first such meeting was held in February and ended with a listing of
those donors who had not delivered on their promises, which was then
presented to the Friends of Yemen meeting of foreign ministers.

"We are using name-and-shame," Zakout told IRIN. "That has been very

"In the past, the countries pledge and don't deliver and, somehow,
nothing happens," he said. In 2006, for example, donors pledged $4
billion to Yemen, much of which never materialized. With the new
approach, he said, "the pledges will not be forgotten.

"I do hope this will become an example for the international community
in other contexts."

Donor transparency groups say that aid pledges are almost never fully
realized. Only a fraction
he-aid-meant-to-rebuild-haiti> of the $9 billion pledged to the Haiti
earthquake recovery reportedly ever made it. In late January, the
international community pledged more than $1.5 billion
Kuwait> in humanitarian aid to Syria, yet UN response plans requiring
the same dollar figure remain only 30 percent funded.

Other promises in recent years, described by the anti-poverty group ONE
as "welcome but vague", include: a $50 billion increase in global
official development assistance (ODA) promised at the Gleneagles G8
Summit in 2005; $60 billion for health ODA promised at the Heiligendamm
G8 Summit in 2007; $20 billion for agriculture and food security
committed at the 2009 L'Aquila G8 Summit; and $100 billion for climate
finance promised at the Copenhagen climate summit in December 2009.

Agreed principles

Daniel Coppard, director of research and analysis at Development
Initiatives, a group which uses data to advocate for better development
work, says the more important starting point is garnering support for a
set of commonly agreed principles on how pledges should be made,
especially in the context of a shift in recent years towards more
qualitative than quantitative pledges.

"The type of commitments made continue to be vague and very slippery,"
Coppard told IRIN. "The challenge is getting clarity on the commitments
made in the first place. That would be the number one priority."

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)'s
Development Assistance Committee
69&InstrumentPID=274> (DAC) and ONE
have both created
guidelines for transparent pledges with more clarity on the funding,
including: a specific timeline; whether it is additional, and if so,
what the baseline is; whether it will be disbursed in a lump sum or
over several years; whether it is conditional; its expected outcomes;
and a mechanism through which the pledge's implementation will be
monitored. Global Integrity, which advocates transparent and
accountable governance, also uses the SMART criteria
Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely - to measure
governments' commitments. The challenge now is getting widespread
support for and use of these guidelines.

The lack of consistency and specificity in pledges has created
challenges in monitoring them, even where mechanisms do exist.

For example, the G8 has regular reporting to monitor fulfilment of
pledges made at its summits, but spends more time arguing over
interpretations of what the commitments were than on whether they were
actually fulfilled, Coppard said. The trouble is that commitments are
often made by politicians first, and then ministries try to figure out
how to implement them, instead of the other way around.

Once pledges are made clearly, there are many ways they can be
monitored, through both civil society and formal mechanisms, for
example: a global independent body, domestic mechanisms created through
parliament, or mechanisms tied to a specific summit.

One such mechanism is The Mutual Review of Development Effectiveness in
Africa (MRDE), an annual report by the UN Economic Commission for
Africa and the OECD that assesses progress against commitments made by
African governments and the international community. In support of the
MRDE, the Commit4Africa website
provides a searchable database of pledges made at international summits
over the last decade or so (it is out-of-date due to a lack of funding,
but hopes to soon be revived).

"This thinking is already well underway," Coppard said. "A discussion
around having some kind of accountability mechanism will force these
issues into the open even more."


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[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United
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