Although the spotlight in recent days has been on agreements made at the OECD DAC’s latest High-Level Meeting, we mustn’t overlook an important publication that demonstrates how previously agreed rule changes have been translated into practice. In 2016, governments agreed to new rules that allow for a wider set of peace and security activities to be counted as official development assistance (ODA). The revised casebook, published in late October 2017, provides a catalogue of case studies to demonstrate the application of these new rules.
Whilst the casebook is a useful resource that provides evidence of how the rules have been interpreted by different donors and implementing agencies, it is largely illustrative and falls short of clarifying actual rules.
The option to reopen discussions on these rules is not on the table, but there is room for the OECD DAC to consider how to better define them and, in particular, the key terms used. One way to achieve this could be through an addendum or annex to the casebook, providing definitions and information on the types of activities that are and aren’t captured under key terms. This clarification is critical to ensure greater transparency around donor spending on peace and security, and to strengthen consistency in donor reporting. It also addresses the risk that, depending on how the new rules are interpreted, resources could be diverted away from development and poverty-reduction-focused activities in favour of those that align with national security and political priorities (i.e. those less aligned with the primary objective of ODA – “to promote the economic development and welfare of countries”).
While the need for greater clarity on key terms is applicable to the new rules in general, there are three aspects where this is particularly notable:
1. Defining and clarifying the activities that are captured under the terms ‘routine police functions’ and ‘non-lethal equipment and training’. The rules say that activities supporting partner country police with regard to “financing for police functions pursuant to preventing and addressing criminal activities, and the provision of related non-lethal equipment and training in the context of countering transnational organised crime” can be counted as ODA (Para 6), and examples of support provided to partner country police are outlined in the casebook, such as Guinea-Bissau and Liberia (e.g. case 23).
Both terms include activities that under the broad framework of ‘public safety’ provision could cause physical harm to the public in certain fragile and conflict contexts. For example, ‘routine police functions’ can include coercive law enforcement measures. ‘Non’ or ‘less’ lethal training/equipment can refer to the use of a range of pain-inducing (whilst not deadly) weapons such as tear gas, pepper spray and sleep gas. Used in contexts where there is a governance vacuum (such as Guinea-Bissau) and law enforcement agencies are a party to the conflict, this could result in the exacerbation of human rights abuses and impunity.
Further clarity and guidance should be provided to specify which ‘routine policing functions’ count as ODA and in which contexts the provision of non-lethal equipment equipment/training can be used as ODA. A prerequisite of using ODA in this context should be completion of a full risk and conflict assessment and training that includes a focus on how to use non-lethal equipment responsibility and in line with human rights standards.
The arguments presented here are based on an (understood) assumption that ODA cannot be used for any activities that cause harm to citizens, even when a law enforcement agency is responding to a security threat and defending public safety. However, as there is no formal clarification of this in the current definition of ODA, this is open to interpretation and clear guidelines are urgently needed.
2. Clarifying which intelligence activities are considered to be ‘development focused’ and count as ODA. The rules say that training in gathering intelligence on political activities cannot be counted as ODA. However, they do allow for data collection for development purposes, or preventative or investigatory activities by law enforcement agencies in the context of routine policing to uphold the rule of law, including countering transnational organised crime.
While the casebook includes examples of where support to routine police functions has included support to investigation agencies, without definitions of key terms (such as ‘investigatory’ and ‘countering transnational organised crime’) and parameters guiding the types of intelligence activities considered to be ‘development focused’ (can be counted as ODA), there is a risk that donor interpretations will differ. This could lead to inconsistent reporting and the use of ODA for intelligence work that is more aligned to donor national security priorities, than to a development or poverty-reduction agenda.
3. Establishing the parameters for activities with a ‘development’ or ‘civilian’ purpose. Some cases outlined are deemed ODA eligible on the broad basis that the ‘purpose is civilian’ or the project provides a ‘development service’ (e.g. case 7). Guidance should be developed on the human security and poverty-reduction outcomes of a project to be classified as having a ‘development’ or ‘civilian’ purpose (e.g. number of vulnerable and insecure civilians that are directly and indirectly targeted through a project, and outcomes that have specifically strengthened people’s livelihoods and security). Without this, there is a risk that ODA could be diverted for use in a wider set of peace and security activities.
Broader questions around defining and reporting on ODA
The necessary clarifications highlighted above illustrate a broader need for improved evidence – not just for peace and security but for all reported ODA – on the ways in which ODA contributes to poverty reduction and development. Currently, it is enough for reporting agencies to state that the project has a ‘development’ focus. To strengthen transparency of ODA, clearer outcome-orientated guidelines are needed that set out the minimum requirements and targets on who will benefit and how – targets that must be reached for a project to meet the criteria for having promoted ‘economic development’ or the ‘welfare of developing countries’ as per the definition of ODA.