An Unequal Partnership

Fraser Reilly-King on why the post-2015 framework still misses the meaning of 'partnership' in 'global partnership'.
By: /
April 9, 2013
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“A partnership among equals.”

This was the tag line on a set of banners on the drive to Nusa Dua, an upscale part of the island of Bali, Indonesia, where the High Level Panel of Experts on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (HLP) was meeting.

The HLP was set up in July 2012 by UN Secretary General Bank Ki Moon to present an “ambitious, yet achievable” development framework for what will succeed the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), established in 2000 and intended to be achieved by 2015.

Co-chaired by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and British Prime Minister David Cameron, the Panel met in Bali on March 25-27 (including an all day meeting with civil society) to discuss the “global partnership” piece of the post-2015 development framework.

It was an important meeting since many believe that the successor to MDG 8, the “global partnership for development”, is one of the linchpins in any future development framework. If MDGs 1 through 7 inform “the what” needs to be done, MDG8 defines “the how” countries can realize these goals.

Under the current MDG 8, “global partnership” addresses several things: developing an open, rule-based, predictable trading and financial system; giving special attention to the needs of Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Land-locked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and Small Island Developing states (SIDs); dealing with the debt problems of developing countries; providing these countries enhanced access to affordable essential drugs and new technologies, in particular in information and communications.

In the days just prior to the Bali meeting, the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda produced a useful evaluation of progress on MDG8, as well as a forward looking agenda.

The successes on MDG8 are mixed. Market access for developing countries has improved, but the Doha round of trade talks is stalled. The 2008 global financial crisis exposed the weaknesses of the global financial system, only some of which have been addressed. The number of LDCs has doubled over the past four decades to 48. Aid budgets fell in real terms in 2011 for the first time since 1997. Numerous countries have benefited from debt relief programs, but the food, fuel and financial crisis have thrown 20 more back into a state of debt distress. Finally access to information and communication technologies has increased, as did access to medicines.

The UN Task Team also pointed to a range of issues that never made it into the partnership mix: MDG 8 had no time-bound commitments or quantitative targets to drive political commitment and ambition; it ignored other sources of development financing like domestic resource mobilization and foreign direct investment; it failed to address some qualitative dimensions of the debate, like ensuring predictable funding that is harmonized with other resources, reducing the strict policy conditions that often come with donor lending, and establishing coherence within the financial and trade systems.

Looking ahead, not surprisingly, the Task Team called for a more equitable international, monetary, financial and trading system that supports development; a broader range of financial resources, including more aid, domestic resource mobilization, remittances and longer-term investments to achieve this; the further dissemination of technologies; a partnership that fully engages all development actors, in particular new actors like emerging economies and non-state actors; and a stronger and fairer system of global governance.

The Task Team report was in fact a nice complement to a lot of the points civil society raised in their own statement and discussions with the High-Level Panel.

By comparison, the HLP’s own conclusions on global partnership are still very vague. They do talk about the need for “a transformative, people-centred and planet-sensitive development agenda […] through the equal partnership of all stakeholders.” They ground this vision within a strong set of principles (albeit ignoring human rights, as the civil society campaign Beyond 2015 noted). They talk about diversifying the range resources to finance development beyond aid. And they signal the need for stronger, better coordinated global governance, while strengthening national ownership and country systems, in particular, to monitor and evaluate the implementation of any future goals.

But what is missing is one key element that has run throughout the discussions of any post-2015 framework – inequality. The HLP communiqué makes no reference to it.

Strong partnerships include action to address inequalities due to power imbalances.” In practice, this means adopting concrete measures to promote equitable relations. This is “the how”.

Simply strengthening the current system can only go so far.

If the HLP truly envisages a transformative agenda for development, then inequality must be at the heart of any future framework for a global partnership – be it in the design of global governance, models of development cooperation, or the mechanisms for financing development.  

Addressing inequality is an ambitious goal. But I also believe it is a necessary and achievable one.

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