Last week, the UK’s Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Ivan Lewis MP, met with MPs, NGO representatives and Diaspora groups to set out his party’s vision for international development and the future of aid (speech can be read in full here). Development Initiatives attended, as one of the key stakeholders who has input into the policy preparation process since January – when Lewis set out his original proposed framework for a post-2015 Labour vision. The speech began with a focus on domestic policies as a response to two recent controversies: the first over the decision by David Cameron to postpone the introduction of a bill enshrining the UK’s 0.7% pledge in law, the second coming after the statement by Secretary of State Justine Greening that the UK would end direct bilateral aid to South Africa. (Lewis has previously commented at length on both issues, in his Huffington Post blog.)
The Shadow Secretary of State used these stories as a starting point to “be clear where Labour stands [on the domestic political context]”Among other policy points, Lewis announced the launch of a Labour-led inquiry which we and our partners will be watching for closely, an inquiry to “report later [in 2013] on corruption in developing countries, tax dodging by multinational companies and the role of financial institutions.”
Good governance core to post-2015
Moving on to the Labour post-2015 vision, Lewis set out his stall with ten separate policy points (see link above; you can also read a lengthy analysis by Mark Tran in the Guardian here). They add up to a compelling vision, calling for the High Level Panel to focus on “inequality, not simply poverty.” DI especially welcomes the Shadow Secretary of State’s call for good governance to be core to the post-2015 framework (see points 9 and 10). He notes that “targets should focus on developing quality and accessible data systems, access to information, civic education programmes.” We broadly agree that in the post-2015 settlement, targets should focus on “corporate responsibility reporting, respect for legal frameworks and human rights that comply with international standards, access to justice and freedom from corruption.” In fact, DI, along with partners such as Global Witness and the International Budget Partnership, have already begun working towards the tricky ‘how’ of such a set of targets. Our push to enshrine better governance and access to information in the post-2015 settlement is covered here; setting out proposed goals and indicators on governance, transparency, and mainstreaming investment and outcome indicators.
More needed on the ‘how’
Though Lewis’ speech was encouraging, some in the room felt that such detail on the ‘how’ was lacking. As David Nussbaum of Beyond 2015 noted in his response to Lewis on the day, Labour could especially be clearer in what mechanisms they will use for monitoring accountability in the post-2015 goals; DI noted particularly that Lewis made no explicit mention of either the Open Government Partnership or the International Aid Transparency Initiative – though he did refer to IATI obliquely and in passing.
We would also like to encourage Mr Lewis to go further in his thinking on value for money. Though both transparency and empowerment of developing country citizens were separate themes in the Labour vision, it is possible to make more explicit the crucial links between the two issues. Greater transparency (for example, through the IATI and the momentum of the open government agenda) is not just the key to better accountability on aid spending from a domestic perspective. Through enabling citizens in aid recipient countries to understand and use information about aid, transparency can also be the key to ending what Lewis sees as ‘dependency’ but can also be called dis-empowerment; resulting in part from a lack of transparency around resources available for investment in poverty reduction. Drawing these links could help move the transparency debate on from talking about the domestic issue of ‘value for money’ – important though this is – and focus more explicitly on the needs of poor people.
Better data for post-2015
Lastly, Lewis makes a welcome call for “Quality, accessible and dis-aggregated data” on inequality and poverty, and rightly says that better data is of paramount importance to the post-2015 settlement. In fact, DI is highlighting the importance of this agenda through our Investments to End Poverty programme, which (in partnership with the Brookings Institution) seeks to view aid in the context of all resources, including remittances and FDI. Watch out for the next discussion paper in this series, which will focus on the data we currently lack about poverty. How can we end poverty if we don’t know who the poor are or where they live? Why is it so difficult to count the number of poor people in the world? Can household surveys accurately capture levels of inequality in a developing country? (Watch the @devinitorg twitter feed for this!) We look forward to engaging with others, including the Labour Campaign for International Development, on this important agenda in coming weeks. Meanwhile, as we wait for the release of the High Level Panel’s report on May 30th, DI will continue to work with our partners to provide evidence for the Panel on the links between access to better information and the eradication of extreme poverty.
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