Civil Society For Aid That Works For Poor

Joyce Mulama

GLASGOW, Jun 21 (IPS) – With a high level meeting on aid effectiveness set to take place later this year in Accra, Ghana, participants at the eighth CIVICUS Assembly here in the Scottish capital want donors to stop dictating how aid should be used, and instead let it be driven by the needs of the people it is intended for.

The four-day mammoth meeting, winding to a close on Saturday, has brought together over 1,000 people from civil society organisations, governments and inter-governmental organisations around the world to discuss citizens’ participation in processes meant to improve their lives. The theme this year is ‘People, Participation and Power’.

Donors are under scrutiny for adopting a top-down approach when discussing aid that excludes the needs of the very people who require it. This has raised questions of whether funds are indeed reaching the people who urgently need them.

“Where is the money?” asked Alpha Barry of Youth Empowerment in Guinea. “I hear that a lot of money is poured into our countries in aid. Why is the money not trickling down to the grassroots?”

In September, ministers from over 100 countries, heads of multilateral and bilateral organisations and civil society organisations will meet in the Ghanaian capital to review the Paris Declaration and the performance of both aid providers and recipient countries.

The donor-driven aid architecture is restricted by a bureaucratic jungle that makes it difficult to access financial assistance, participants at the assembly lamented. In fact, it has been proved that much of the money is gobbled up by the aid administration, with just a fraction percolating to the grassroots.

An example that was cited in Glasgow is the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, which many deserving organisations have been unable to access. “The funds require organisations to fill in thousands of forms and submit them in a particular manner. This is too much, say, for a grassroots women’s organisation that may not have the capacity to adhere to these regulations,” according to Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, general secretary of the global Young Women’s Christian Association.

“The money favours the big NGOs more, even though in most cases it is the small organisations that engage with (ordinary) people,” she told IPS.

In response, CIVICUS has developed capacity building tool kits for smaller organisations, with simple guidelines on proposal writing. In an interview with IPS, Kumi Naidoo, the outgoing CIVICUS secretary general said the tool kits can be accessed on the internet. Plans are underway to produce and distribute hard copies for organisations that lack the internet.

Nevertheless, a campaign to put in place legislation that will ensure transparency in governments’ spending of aid is building up. There is consensus that citizens must have a right to access information on these funds.

“There needs to be a participatory mechanism,” explained Debbi Kaddu-Serwadda, executive director of Empower Children and Communities Against Abuse, Uganda. “The recipients of aid, who are the citizens, must be aware of what has come in and what it has been used for. This is what the law must highlight.”

Legal safeguards are completely absent in most developing countries, particularly in Africa. In addition to legislation, development experts have argued for the need to set up an independent body that will monitor how aid is being utilised on the ground. A watchdog would include the Africa Monitor, a new Pan-African organisation established to scrutinise among other things, whether aid is benefitting citizens.

“Pushing rich countries is good, but if our governments do not use the money well, it makes a mockery of our efforts as civil society,” Naidoo observed.

The CIVICUS assembly is an annual event that seeks to promote an exchange of ideas on development issues between civil society organisations. This is the third successive year that the global meeting was hosted by Glasgow.

Earlier this month, CIVICUS and Action Aid submitted a note outlining civil society thinking on the issue of aid quality and effectiveness in preparation for the Development Cooperation Forum in July, in New York.

With women making up the overwhelming majority of those living in poverty, aid cannot be deemed effective unless it addresses the key issues of women’s rights, the concept note states. The aid agenda must aim to reduce poverty, promote gender equality and guarantee human rights and social justice.

Civil society is seriously concerned that women’s rights will be further marginalised if gender equality goals are not put on top of development goals, and funded and measured by governments and donors. It is therefore important to ensure that women’s rights perspectives are integrated into the aid effectiveness agenda and related processes.

In addition experts argued that for aid to be effective in Africa, debt cancellation and trade subsidies have to be addressed.

The continent has reportedly been spending a substantial chunk of its budget on servicing debts – money that would have otherwise gone into financing public service sectors such as health and education.

At the CIVICUS assembly a renewed campaign was begun to push rich countries to scrap agricultural subsidies in order to allow African nations to compete on a level playing field. The subsidies issue has popped up time and again at global trade negotiations. (END/2008).



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