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Effective aid: ‘making progress but not enough’

10 Sep 2008

George Obeng Adjei; Francis Anto; Paul Chinnock

Source: TropIKA

A meeting of senior figures in aid and development has agreed that progress is being made towards making aid more effective, but more needs to be done. The Third High-level Forum on Aid Effectiveness – held 2nd-4th September in Accra, Ghana – identified three major challenges: country ownership, more effective and inclusive partnerships, and achieving results that are both tangible and adequately accounted for.

The current drive to ‘make aid work’ began in 2005 with the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. The Accra meeting was the third of a series of high-level forums intended to monitor and further develop the process. Over 1200 representatives of governments of aid receiving countries, donor institutions, parliamentarians and civil society organizations attended. The concluding statement from the meeting – the Accra Agenda for Action – may be viewed here.

‘Too slow’

The opening session was built around data available on aid effectiveness. ‘We have to admit that the pace of progress made since 2005 is too slow’ said Mary Chinery-Hesse, adviser to the President of Ghana. She said the evaluation of the Paris Declaration had exposed challenges imposed by fragmentation and weak coordination, and called for greater effort by both donor and recipient countries. There was a need to take stock of progress made since the Paris Declaration, in terms of its five principles of: ownership; alignment and harmonisation; managing for development results; mutual accountability, monitoring and evaluation systems.

Ann Veneman, UNICEF’s Executive Director, said accelerating the pace of aid effectiveness was now more critical in the light of the current global economic challenges resulting from the rising cost of fuel and food, and climate change. She noted that development finance often remained unpredictable, conditional and tied when it should be aligned to countries’ priorities, and emphasized the need to revisit existing delivery frameworks to ensure mutual accountability at all levels.

Jan Cedergren, Chairman of the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness Progress, spoke of a need for partners in aid programmes to change deep-seated behaviours.


A panel discussion and debate took place with the title ‘What needs to change and how can the international aid system deliver?’ The issues of ownership, capacity building, flexibility and accountability were again to the fore. Also discussed were: the role of civil society organizations, human rights, gender and ethics, and the need for respect for cultural diversity and for ‘leadership with vision’. Suggestions raised by participants included that parliaments should be part of discussions on aid effectiveness; presently they are usually side-lined, since aid is channelled to the executive branch of government.

There was consensus that ‘South-South cooperation’ in all its forms, as well as regional cooperation between countries, can improve aid effectiveness. However, it was noted that the Paris Declaration did not make reference to regional cooperation.

A delegate from Kenya made a call for local offices to be given more authority to disburse funds, and a delegate from Liberia noted that aid should be seen as an investment that is a means to an end; one size did not fit all when it came to aid programmes.

Climate change

There were a number of ‘side events’, one of which focused on climate change. A delegate from OECD suggested integrating climate change adaptation at all levels in the development process, with a focus on building capacity in identifying risks associated with climate change. The delegate also suggested that projects that contribute to climate maladaptation should not be funded. There was consensus that there was a link between climate change and human rights and security issues, and that civil society and rural communities should be included in discussions on climate change.

Another side event considered the issue of ‘predictability’ in aid, using the health sector as a ‘tracer’ for aid effectiveness – read separate news story here.


A roundtable discussion considered the issue of ownership in more detail. It was felt that the definition of ownership in the Paris Declaration was narrowly focused on central government. The meeting considered what a broader definition of ownership would look like at country level and what partner governments could do to broaden the ownership of development policies. Donor countries had to rethink – together with their partners – development cooperation in the particular areas of capacity development and conditionalities. It was necessary to devise more diverse and legitimate monitoring systems for ownership.

In the discussion, it was suggested that governments could broaden ownership by including sectors other than ministries of finance – such as other sector ministries, local government, parliament and other national institutions (including audit agencies, political parties and traditional authorities). Civil society and non-government organizations also play a role by ensuring a crucial connection with the ultimate beneficiaries of aid. The media has a role in catalyzing policy debates, provision of information about policies and questioning their quality. Other identified groups were grassroots, women’s and religious organizations.

Sector level

Another session in Accra was devoted to discussion as to how the Paris Declaration could be applied at sector level. This began with an account by Uganda’s health minister of how aid is being used in his country. Joy Phumaphs of the World Bank, emphasized the need for sector-wide approach capacity building. Andrew Cassels of WHO described how programmes could be moved quickly to the implementation stage, emphasising the need to create confidence, reach agreement on priorities and place poor people at the centre. Nicholas Burnett of UNESCO called for complementary channels for aid. Other issues raised in discussion included:

  • Are poor people being reached?

  • Why do we need to build capacity?

  • Whose capacity is being built?

  • The need to work with the informal sector

  • The need to streamline procedures

  • The need to develop tools required for implementing the aid

  • The brain drain

  • Why are good results being achieved in the social sector but not in the agriculture sector?

  • Avoiding wastage of resources.

‘Deliver what you promise ... publish what you spend’

The third day of the conference was a ‘ministerial day’ opened by President Kuffuor of Ghana, who noted that Ghana was closer to meeting the MDGs than most developing countries. He spoke of the need for sustained consultations between donor and recipient countries, for a mutual accountability framework, and for harmonisation. Harmonisation should not, however, detract from bilateral support originating from a special relationship between certain countries. The president emphasized that aid should be used chiefly to assist capacity development in recipient countries. He urged the meeting to ‘remove the indignities of permanent aid.’ Aid should aim at enabling recipient countries to progress to become ‘worthy partners.’ He remarked that ‘...the self-confidence unleashed from such programmes is what aid effectiveness is about.’

Angel Gurria, Secretary General, the OECD said the ultimate aim of aid and assistance was to provide the means for countries to extricate themselves from aid dependency. He urged donor countries to ‘deliver what you promise’ and for recipient countries to ‘publish what you spend.’

In a discussion on the relevance and urgency of aid reform, delegates agreed there had been improvements in transparency and predictability. However, there was a need to re-examine the procedures that partners had to go through; at times there could be delays of four years, rendering the aid ineffective. According to the IMF representative, the predictability of aid could be enhanced by strengthening of public accountability systems.

The following needs were recognised by delegates:

  • Respect for national priorities and sovereignty

  • Technology development in partner countries

  • Foreign direct investment and technology transfer

  • Capacity building to be more than training and making experts available

  • Trade

  • Moving faster.

Delays lead to frustration

Also speaking on the ministerial day was Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She indicated that, even in fragile states, good examples can be found of effective aid programmes. She said that, with the support of development partners, Liberia has completed the first phase of its poverty reduction strategy through good governance, human resource development, infrastructure development and the can do spirit. Delays in project implementation of led to frustration. The unpredictability of donor funds often caused problems and sometimes funds were earmarked for specific projects that might not be of national priority. President Sirleaf therefore made the following suggestions: there should be benchmarks for accountability; development assistance should be harmonized; aid should lead to capacity development; aid should support the private sector to become the engine of growth; aid should lead to poverty reduction.

Comments made by delegates included the following;

  • Donors should keep their promises

  • Donor funds should be depoliticized

  • Donors need to respond faster, show transparency and listen to civil society organizations

  • Donors need to communicate clearly to their officers on the ground

  • The road from commitment to cash must be shortened

  • There is a need to create mechanisms to listen to the poor

  • Systems should be made more flexible to respond to new challenges

  • The mechanisms for fund disbursement in fragile states should be simplified

  • Local resources can be mobilised through taxation for sustainable development

  • The World Food Programme needs a more flexible food supply

  • Food security should be promoted by helping small farmers.

  • Export bans are not helpful

  • Local subsidies are not helpful.

A step forward

The meeting demonstrated that there is a continuing tension between, on the one hand, the need for accountability and transparency and, on the other, avoiding too many conditions leading to unpredictability and delays. The Accra meeting has hopefully brought donors and recipients to a closer understanding on these concerns and the Agenda for Action may therefore mark a further step towards the goal of improved aid effectiveness.

See also: news story on the background to the Accra Meeting.

The website of the Third High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.


There is 1 comment about this article: Please login if you want to submit a comment.

27 Oct 2008 by Paul Chinnock:

Further developments from the meeting include the following:

1) Accra Agenda for Action Calls on Donors to Invest in Aid Management Systems:

2) International Aid Transparency Initiative Launches in Accra:

3) Procurement Site Provides Access to $870 Billion in Tenders:

4) Francis Dogo Explains How AMP Increases Aid Transparency:

5) Asia Pacific Country Gateways Plan a Regional Forum:

Paul Chinnock

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