Themicroloanfoundation's Blog


Hung out to dry: the election results and the future for development
May 7, 2010, 10:55 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

A hung parliament could mean quite a few things. Power-sharing deals, the potential for proportional representation and possibly a compromise on proposed reforms if there’s a coalition government. But what does it mean for development? In all honesty, probably not too much.

Looking at the Conservative, Labour and Lib-Dem manifestos, I honestly have a hard time picking apart ANY real differences. At the same time, no one seems to feel a need to change the status quo. Both the Tories and Lib dems have promised to bring aid up to 0.7% of GDP, just as Labour promised back in 2005 at Gleneagles. But with all the talks of domestic budget cuts, do we really think that’s going to happen?

All three parties committed to pushing the donor community to meet the MDGs, supporting trade for development and reforming the World Bank and IMF. Given the ambiguity of the language, it’s impossible to tell what any of this will actually entail. Does pushing for the MDG’s mean yet ANOTHER awareness-raising campaign?

Trade for development? What, try to restart the Doha round? Somehow convince the EU to cut its agricultural subsidies and allow African imports? The Daily Mail would have a field day “Aid bureaucrats sell out British farmers! African vegetables invade Britain”.

Reform the World Bank and IMF? Bretton Woods has been re-inventing itself periodically since the 1960s. Reform could mean just about anything.

However, the most striking commonality between all of the manifestos was that not a single one actually mentioned ownership. Not a single document actually talked about listening to what people in aid receiving countries want or giving governments any sort of policy space. All three parties talk about the UK building institutions in these countries. What about letting people build their own institutions?

If we look at the most successful development cases of the past fifty years, particularly South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, there exists one commonality. Policy space. While these countries received huge amounts of development assistance, they were given the chance to plan their own economic futures, build industrial policies and maintain inclusive welfare policies. How do these stories compare to Africa, where poverty reduction strategies still have to be approved by the IMF? Or where the majority of development assistance often goes into paying for expensive consultants to help direct policy decisions?

How about the parties start talking about making aid flexible and responsive to the needs of communities? Participation needs to be about more than box-ticking. At the moment, aid is considered participatory if a “civil society organisation” (which could mean anything) is involved in giving some sort of feedback.

Unfortunately, any move towards genuine participation requires a huge reform effort on the part of the donor agency. Given the myriad of issues on Britain’s plate right now, we can probably expect more of the same for a while.

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