Programming for LDCs – IAR submission

IAR Submission: John Sinclair Aug 11/2016. filed under Journalism

Subject: A new GAC programming style for Least Developed Countries (LDCs)

This submission focuses on how we might better deliver Agenda 2030 in the field. Effective implementation of Agenda 2030 will require enhancements to our traditional programming approaches. These will be not just for the core pro-poor focus of Agenda’s SDGs but also because we now better understand the importance of partnerships for effective delivery. It will focus on a new generation of multi-stakeholder bilateral aid, something which became somewhat neglected in the Harper years.

The submission also recognises a key new reality of the last decade. Recipient partners, even LDCs and fragiles, are no longer passive, but rather determined masters of their own development agendas. They are almost all better governed, with more demanding citizens, than when back in 2005, the Paris Declaration Principles on ‘country ownership’ / ’country in the driver’s seat’ were agreed.

As context to my thinking I am including below hyperlinks to two recent submissions to the IAR:[ these files are elsewhere on this website .js]
¬ Is Canada ready to be a better development cooperation partner? OpenCanada. July 6/2016.
¬ Decentralisation. An instrument of choice. July 2016
Also you might explore other contextual papers on my personal website:

Some key premises:

¬ Canada/GAC will be anxious in the light of the more intense international focus on the poorest under Agenda 2030 to be seen to be taking early steps to commit new funds for programming for LDCs and fragile countries (fragiles comprise almost half of all UN listed LDCs).
o The world’s poorest people largely live in LDCs, overwhelmingly in Africa and South Asia. Over the next decade, the world’s poorest people will be increasingly concentrated in LDCs.
o While there are significant pockets of the poorest in some LMICs, these are mainly in China and India (300m!) where the solutions lie in tackling their internal inequality. This is no argument for them or other MICs being considered as priorities for scarce Canadian bilateral aid.
¬ The list of priority countries will need to be revisited in a post-consultations presentation to Cabinet. My no-brainer for that review is to recommend immediate action to increase Canadian aid for LDCs. Canada should plan now to allocate them most — say 80 percent — of our bilateral ODA, even if it is only formally announced in Budget 2017. A new priority country list is needed which should be overwhelmingly LDCs by number. Of course there will be issues of absorptive capacity, but that is precisely why LDCs should be our future priority and why enhanced decentralisation, offering closer knowledge of LDC needs, will be an important part of the implementation strategy.

¬ Canada as part of being ‘back’ should commit in Budget 2017 to meet the UN’s LDC aid target of 0.15% of GNI. The same budget statement could propose a steady increases in ODA levels over this Parliament’s life close to the peak, obviously judged affordable, under another Trudeau back in 1975, namely 0.54% of GNI. Finally, even if only stated aspirationally, we should indicate our approach to reaching the core UN 0.7 percent target ‘invented’ by Lester Pearson.

¬ Our new approach needs to offer stability. Predictability in this uncertain world has become a very attractive asset. Our multi-year aid budget framework, with its International Assistance Envelope (IAE), needs to transparently provide a three- or better four-year budget planning framework for each priority country.. This would not be legally binding for Canada if we have a fiscal crisis. However, this would be an important reassurance to a recipient LDC.

Enhanced bilateral programming:

As noted in my reference paper, I believe that our future as an effective donor will demand a much stronger emphasis on being a good partner. Partnership is the new ‘norm’ in global debate. An enhanced development cooperation partnership would also be seen as a key entry point to developing the longer-term partnerships we will be seeking as a trading nation with these same countries in a few years’ time.

Donors will increasingly be acting in a responsive mode, working within priorities set by the recipient government. It will not be for Canada to tell a Rwanda or a Bangladesh how they should do ‘development’. We do not have, unlike countries like the US, UK or French, a history of being a bully. But we have been too often guilty of paternalism which undermines the maturing of developing country governments. If we want to insist on particular priorities that do not fit within their national plan or their SDG targets, we should expect to need convincing arguments or local supporters.

The ground-rules for shaping bilateral aid have changed substantially over the last decade or so. Canada has, perhaps sometimes reluctantly, followed the trend to programmatic modes in a few key recipient countries where the majority of other donors were already using thematic approaches of multi-donor SWAps [e.g. the $ 1 billion plus health Swap or sector–wide approach in Bangladesh] and/or working within JASs [ Joint Assistance Strategy].

This world will be even more the norm in future. There will be little or no space, certainly limited policy influence, for a middle-sized donor which chooses to deliver its bilateral programming via small $2-4 million projects essentially like an NGO. We have pumped money by the $ hundred millions into thematic health mechanism like the Global Fund, but if we want to influence health policy, say to ensure gender equity goals in access, in a Tanzania, we will need to partner with the Nordics, the Brits and Germans in that country’s Health Systems SWAp.

So how do we proceed?

First we need to build up our local professional presence. As the reference document on decentralisation notes, GAC senior management must assure that this team, based in our embassy are seen by their peers, as strong professionals under a senior manager, with substantial delegated authority. One of the worse failing for a donor working in partnership mode is if its senior representative on the ground is not seen as trusted by his/her own HQ to take shared decisions within the local dialogue framework.

For me, based on my many years of practical experience in Egypt, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, complementary to that core Canadian presence should be a Project Support Unit (PSU). This is a small contracted team of local /national professionals who provide specialised technical skills and, often most valuable, local contacts who can guide one through the particularities of local politics and government practices. These are cheap options, especially when compared to paying to flying a Canadian across the world to a two-day meeting.

But any CIDA insider will know PSUs are a much criticised mechanisms. TB says the contracts are inconsistent with TB rules [rules designed for projects in downtown Kanata.]. HQ-based professionals, who are unwilling to go and live in a Cairo, say the PSU staff are ‘stealing’ all the interesting work… and do not have Canadian degrees, only several decades of local experience and a PhD from the Sorbonne. And, dare I say it, Ambassadors are sometimes jealous at the privileged contacts that the development team ‘gains’ through the PSU.

Second, we need to reach understandings with our partners, most critically the host government, but also other donors and CSOs, on what indeed are the development priorities that the partnerships need to support. These will be increasingly framed by the priorities the country set for its approach/main targets under Agenda 2030. This is just the process that Canada must also now follow for itself under the Universality principle of the Agenda.

We should be starting now under the IAR to reshape the priorities we chose for ourselves. In partnership mode they should not just be our preferences, but also programming directions that we know are shared with likely partners, both priority recipients and other donors.

We should also recognise that we will be somewhat in catch-up mode. This can be a plus. We can avoid the mistakes of others. We can be open to possible new partners. In my reference paper I ask whether we would be ready to boldly work with Cuba and Brazil on a health programme for an African country.

The Canadian – Country X Development Partnership Strategy:

Canada/CIDA (as other donors) has a long history of planning its development cooperation on a multi-year thematic basis. These country strategies have had many names over the years, but a new approach for a priority list of mainly LDCs will be largely a fresh start. This strategy would be a joint partnership product, not something that in the past would have been just for ourselves. Often these strategies were never shared with the partner country or published for Canadians to see.

Let’s call the new product a Canada – Country X Development Partnership Strategy (DPS]. This new partnership strategy would be framed around the country’s national development plan, something designed to meet Agenda 2030 goals, notably that for poverty elimination, but customized to the country situation. Canadians will need to revisit their own views on development priorities in light of analyzing what Agenda 2030 means for ourselves

These new DPSs may take several rounds of dialogue between partners to be concluded. The DPS will need to first respect the recipient country’s development situation and policy priorities, then examine how our own technical capabilities and policy preferences best fit. Moreover, if the developing country has a Joint Assistance Strategy (JAS) in place with its many other donors, those perspectives will need to be recognised by the new Canadian DPS.

Only when much of this vital groundwork is done will we get into the real world of delivering aid. Projects and programmes take time to become operational. In our clunky, inflexible, paperwork-heavy Canadian bureaucratic world a small project can easily take 12-18 month before anything happens on the ground.

This description, especially for the unfamiliar, can seem daunting. It should make it clear why development cooperation programming needs to be well-rooted in trusting, sustained partnerships. For Canada to be truly ‘back’, it needs to be preparing now, (to be frank, several months ago), for this major effort, just as we are insisting the UN does for its share in implementing Agenda 2030 under the heading ‘Fit for Purpose’. GAC will need new human resources, experienced hands. We need to rebuild our friendships with other donors and start exploring the possibilities of working with totally new ones.

Can GAC be ready by November to launch a first ‘test’ wave of a dozen new joint development strategies?

Decentralisation – an instrument of choice

Draft: A policy development note by John Sinclair – July 2016  

It is well understood in the development business that decentralization makes sense. When people in Ottawa try to plan and control development programs located 10,000 kilometres away, projects are much more vulnerable to poorly informed design and local adaptation. Can you Imagine Canadian aid officials paying to build a bread factory with a roof designed to Canadian winter snowload specs when it was to be located on the equator? But it happened at huge costs in time, money and credibility. This sort of thing happens far too often. Somebody responsible and informed on the ground can greatly minimize this risk.

Canada’s record for many decades is as one of the most highly centralized of bilateral donors. Officials talked of ‘localitis ‘as a failing – being too close to the country knowledge could undermine objectivity. This became an obsession in the control-focused Harper decade where project documents gathered dust on Bev Oda’s desk and our partners never knew for months if a project was approved or rejected.  The small CIDA team on the ground had no delegated authority to communicate with the nominally partner country without a HQ authorisation. This meant projects and country strategies were designed in Ottawa for a country that key staff often saw once, maybe twice, a year on a brief mission. Senior management, including policy-makers, most likely had never visited any recipient country except for an international conference.

How can such approaches be seen as developmentally optimal or cost-effective? The net effect is that we dismissed the value of local knowledge of the partner country officials despite the reality that they obviously better knew its economic and social realities. They are also the ones accountable, increasingly via democratic governance, for the wellbeing of their citizens.

How have these bad practices survived?  The explanations are many but a key factor is an imbalance of power, and, in the Canada context, an excessively bureaucratic approach to ‘accountability’.  Western donor institutions and multilateral institutions like the World Bank, controlled the money. They, their staff, far too often thought they knew best. This is not partnership.

That mindset was nominally rejected a decade ago by Canada and the international donor community when we signed the Paris Declaration (2005) which recognized development  effectiveness required ‘country ownership’ and a  ‘country in the driver’s seat’.

The old HQ-centric approach to our relationship with developing countries was never developmentally effective. And now, it is no longer politically acceptable in a world where most developing countries, even the poorest, have governments and citizens/civil societies who feel empowered to be masters in their own land.

The way forward is decentralisation.

Central to Canada really being ‘back,’ is that our relationship with developing countries needs to be a real partnership. As a donor this means our programming should be responsive and inclusive. This is particularly true of the core countries where it needs to be managed in a decentralized mode by strong professionals, with empowered leadership, a resident country director.  The rationale is very practical, not just political correctness. Effectiveness and impact improve substantially if we are close enough to see our partners weekly if not daily – not for reasons of control or book-keeping, but to ensure an optimal understanding of current local realities and the early correction of flawed approaches.

Decentralisation is not new. In the mid-80s CIDA launched into a massive decentralisation exercise following the lead of other bilateral donors. It probably over-reached and, in a strained relationship, let DFAIT co-opt too much of the special start-up funding for buildings. Within three years the pilot was closed. The official explanation was cost; the reality is more that senior management inside CIDA, but also in central agencies, such as Finance, Foreign Affairs and PCO, felt insecure – they had lost their driver’s seat position for what was seen as a distant co-piloting exercise via an in situ partnership between an empowered CIDA field team and the national planning office of  a country such as Tanzania.

Many DAC donors, notably the US, UK and Nordics, have shown more staying power than Canada.  They, including Canada, pushed the World Bank into its massive decentralisation in the late-90s. But we have only returned to decentralisation in a few donor favorites where it was effectively mandatory.

Will the Trudeau government reverse this situation?  The basic arguments still hold. Indeed, in today’s world, Canada wants a stronger set of relationships with developing countries for political and economic reasons. But it is not so clear that the present generation of GAC senior bureaucrats are willing to let go and allow development partnerships to be designed and driven in situ, not a Pearson Building tower. Key will be if good managers will eagerly leave Headquarters. In the World Bank transition, its President bluntly told managers: no promotions, no career, without a stint as a decentralised director!

Cost is often raised as a problem. But decentralisation was affordable once and the technique of using local professionals in so-called PSU’s (program support units) not only dramatically reduced costs but meant that the Canadian field staff had even close contact with local policy-makers and think-tanks. Decentralisation is an enriching professional experience, but to work staff need a distinct set of skills and attitudes to sustain the partnership.

An in-situ director quickly gets to know the inside story on host government policy. Delegated authority, as evidence of trust from the HQ, in turn facilitates a trusting working relationship with host country ministers and senior officials. Donors in situ often work together in thematic partnerships. In the Canadian embassy, it is typically the development people, not the lone trade officer, who learn first of big local deals and scams. As Canada shift attention to the poorest, especially fragile states, often with absorptive capacity constraints, we will need even more of that closeness for effective implementation.

For Canada to regain its political and professional credibility as a partner in the developing world the present GAC consultations needs to draw some bold conclusions on strengthening decentralisation. That ‘boldness’ should emerge from recognition of the effectiveness and relationship gains from such partnership. Certainly more ODA is needed by LDCs, but decentralisation will help ensure us a richer return from that investment.

Budget 2016 and world’s poorest

Printed originally in THE HILL TIMES, WEDNESDAY, APRIL 13, 2016. OPINION

Why did the federal budget forget the world’s poorest?


”Canada is back” is our message at the United Nations and in Washington, but on the ground in our priority aid-recipi- ent countries, especially the least developed amongst them, “old usual” seems to be still the norm. Last month’s first Liberal budget speech did not even have a few token words about the promised mandate shift to a pro-poor approach in our development co-operation. Buried in a technical annex there was a token aid increase of $256 million over two years: inadequate to even restore cuts imposed by the Harper government.

Of course these are also difficult times for Canadians, but the budget was bold in its response: middle-class tax relief and infrastructure spending to keep the economy growing. The budget was commendably bold in its new agenda for our indigenous peoples, as we committed to finally tackle their “third world” conditions.

Domestically, Canada chose a sensible Keynesian approach with its $30-billion budget deficit. But none of this went to the global bottom billion, the poorest, overwhelmingly in Africa and South Asia, that the international community, Canada included, promised to ensure were not left behind.

We need a bold response to their needs as fellow global citizens. Can we afford not to, morally or as international development actors?

The appropriate response is framed by the UN’s new Agenda 2030, with its Sustain- able Development or “Golden Goals” and its “transformational” ambitions. This should
be the template for future development co-operation, paralleling Mr. Trudeau’s strong commitment to our indigenous peoples. Indeed, the Agenda’s Universality Principle means Canada will soon be setting public targets for its own development goals, just as developing countries like Senegal and India.

So why the divergence in approaches, domestic versus global? The goodwill is there for sure, as demonstrated in our response to the tragic flow of refugees from Syria. But there is little evidence of practical change from old norms when it comes to development programming. Was the finance minister not hearing the right messages from his advisers and cabinet colleagues?

The budget failed to show the bold signal needed to demonstrate Canada was back for the developing world.

We must now hope a bolder message will emerge from the upcoming public consultations on a new co-operation policy and funding framework.

Canada’s future should no longer be tied to our traditional trading and invest- ment partners. We are talking longer term, not the next two to three years. Today, economies are depressed almost everywhere: in Europe, the Global South, even the United States. They will recover, but future global leadership will need to be shared. By Agenda 2030’s end-date, China, India, even Brazil, will all be back as global drivers although being oil-rich will be of little benefit to us or even the Saudis. A new Canada, more economically self-confident, at ease with its indigenous peoples, with a more mobile and internationally adventurous population, will want new partners in a rapidly developing Global South.

But to get there, Canada and Canadians need credibility as a partner. We should seek a stronger role in working with the increasingly diverse nations of the South. Its new mega-economies like India will soon far exceed our own in size.

However, the more fundamental challenge will be for the poorest and most frag- ile states. They want effective development at home more than aid. Our support should allow them to move beyond today’s frequent violence and human misery. The streams
of desperate refugees in Europe will not be solved by more humanitarian aid. Sadly, we seem to lack a longer-term perspective; our responses are hesitant and temporary.

What should be the new paradigm for Canada in the Global South? What actions should hopefully follow the anticipated consultations on a new development policy and funding framework?

The following is an incomplete list of desirable responses:

  • Agenda 2030 should be formally adopted as the framework for Canada’s re-energized, development co-operation program, followed by Agenda 2030-compliant country strategies;
  • Commit to reach the 0.15 % of gross national income (GNI) UN target for aid to least developed countries in 2016. Update the priority country list to comprise at least 70 per cent of the least developed countries should easily does this;
  • A medium-term aid commitment of 0.50% of GNI by 2020.This just will match Canada’s aid level effort of the mid-70s (the peak was 0.54%) ;
  • Build closer trusting development partnerships by enhanced decentralization;
  • Achieve meaningful policy coherence: require development perspectives be formally part of decision-making on new political and trade initiatives;
  • Respond to humanitarian crises with new money, not by diverting regular development programming;
  • Respect civil society organizations as development partners, not contractors;
  • Increase funding for public engagement in schools;
  • Restore for Canadians and our development partners the CIDA brand that they know and respect. This can be inside Global Affairs Canada;
  • Set a public, aspirational official development assistance goal of 0.7 per cent;
  • Require a strong development back-ground in senior operational staff, especially new recruits and managers.

Enhanced development co-operation is a sound investment by Canadians in global wellbeing and security. Their future is our future.

Is Canada ‘Fit for Purpose’ in face of a new global agenda?

Is Canada ‘Fit for Purpose’ in the face of a new global agenda?

Ottawa University CIPS blog published Nov 3/2015

 by Julia Sanchez and John Sinclair

Canada has just elected a new government committed to ‘putting Canada back on the global stage’ by re-establishing Canada’s leadership position in promoting human rights and ending poverty. This commitment will be put to the test as key moments in the international agenda, all with important domestic ramifications, are before us almost immediately. The new government will have the opportunity to show this renewed leadership at the critical meeting on Climate Change in Paris, in December, itself following on the G20 Summit in Turkey, as well as a Commonwealth Summit, both in November.

Canada is remembered as an actor that used to contribute well above its middle-power weight in development, diplomacy and peacekeeping. Will the new Canadian government become an active player in a re-energised UN?

 Change is also in the air at the United Nations.  On September 25 in New York we saw the adoption and celebration of Agenda 2030 by well over 100 heads of state and world leaders, including Pope Francis and President Barack Obama. Its substance is encompassed in a complex array of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. The central message of the new agenda, which builds on the successes and shortcomings of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), is to ‘leave no one behind’ on the journey to eliminating extreme poverty by 2030.

Agenda 2030 will be challenging, covering as it does social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainability. It embraces much more than a reworked social development agenda, including totally new dimensions such as climate change, decent work, access to justice and peaceful and inclusive societies. So how do we walk-the-talk of this transformational agenda? At the UN a key discussion is focused on being ‘Fit for Purpose’. How might Canada prepare to play a leadership role in this new global setting?

During the recent UN Summit on Sustainable Development which adopted Agenda 2030 in New York, and anticipating that there would be change back home, we set out to find some answers to that very question. We held informal interviews, under Chatham House rules, with a number of senior UN officials, all at the forefront of steering the UN on the path of this transformational agenda. We asked them how a new Canadian government might build a stronger relationship with the UN family, to enhance its credibility and play a leadership role in the implementation of the new global agenda.

Our interlocutors saw the UN itself on the cusp of major institutional change. The organization — and especially its specialised agencies — will need to be much more focused on an effective presence on the ground, with closer working partnerships with governments, civil society and private sector actors, especially in low-income and fragile states.

In this context, they welcomed the possibility that a new Canadian government, for a long time absent from UN leadership, would be keen to build a more supportive partnership with both the UN institutions and other member states. They noted that over the last decade Canada has cut funding for some important UN agencies, and that we failed to support important UN resolutions and programs.  Our absence from peacekeeping was particularly regretted.

Despite all that, their sense was that Canada was still remembered as an actor that had contributed well above its middle-power weight in areas such as development, diplomacy and peacekeeping. Their hope was that a new Canadian government would become an active player in a re-energised UN, especially in living up to the ambitions of Agenda 2030.

For Canada to respond we need our own ‘Fit for Purpose’ assessment. Our aid budget has been sharply reduced in recent years. The driving philosophy of our aid program has been far from pro-poor.  Our interlocutors recognised that a new, more assertive development co-operation approach will take time to build. But they stressed the need for an ambitious agenda in Canada.

There have been immense changes in the global context over the last decade, which Canada now has to recognise and adapt to. There are new economic players, such as the BRICS, who are increasingly impatient with a world symbolised by a G7 that holds to old leadership ‘privileges’. These UN officials wondered whether Canada would be prepared to be a mediating voice promoting partnerships between a wary North and an impatient Global South. In playing such a mediating role, they suggested we need to recognise that such partnerships will also be crucial on the path to Canada’s own future.

Universality, a central principle of Agenda 2030 — which makes its new Global Goals applicable to both rich and poor countries alike — was essentially rejected by the Harper government. Our interlocutors suggested Canada would do better to follow the lead of major European nations, such as Germany, who are seeing the universal nature of this agenda as an opportunity to reshape their own population’s vision of the world and provide a better understanding of how international and national policies can be complementary.

They specifically saw opportunities for Canada to re-join the community of peacekeepers. It was not an issue of deploying thousands of boots on the ground, but rather the contributing of organizational skills and strengthening rights commitments to presently over-stretched UN efforts.

From a Canadian civil society perspective, there are additional challenges and opportunities in the new Agenda. Our UN interlocutors called for a renewed championing of civil society’s participation in the implementation of Agenda 2030, including enhanced consultation and dialogue with its own civil society at home. They hoped a new Canadian government, working with civil society, could rebuild public support for sustainable development.

Implementation of Agenda 2030 requires re-purposing of the UN. It will reshape the world in which Canada acts economically and politically. Our new government will want to provide political support for these changes. And to do this effectively, it must undergo transformations of its own with respect to how it engages with the world. Enhanced policy coherence and an all-of-government approach to implementing the new agenda need to be part of the process. Is Canada up for the task? Paris will likely be a first chance to walk the talk.

Julia Sanchez is the President of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation. John Sinclair is a regular CIPS contributor and a member of the McLeod Group.

See more at:

Are the ‘No Ones’ again being ‘Left Behind’?

Embassy Newspaper Oped: published Aug 26th 2015

Financing for Development: Are the No Ones again being Left Behind?

Just a few weeks ago, 7000 ministers and senior officials, plus CSOs and private sector representatives met in Addis Ababa at the UN Conference on Financing for Development (FfD). Participants came from the richest to the poorest of nations. Their core goal was to ensure resources would be available to effectively implement the UN Post-2015 Agenda, the international community’s core vehicle for ‘Eliminating Extreme Poverty by 2030’, poverty that weighs upon over a billion global citizens. Post-2015 itself is due to be endorsed, after several years of dialogue and negotiations, at a UN Summit in New York this September. Canada will be one of the many which sign on to an agenda framed by the moral, as well as the practical, objective of ‘No One Left Behind’.

Against that objective, FfD has already failed. Its main goal was to ensure that Post-2015 would have a smooth beginning to its 15 years ‘transformational’ journey. Often tense negotiations instead produced a rambling 134 paragraph Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA). Despite the fancy acronym the document is full of critical holes and papered-over cracks following discussions between rich nations and the developing countries (the G77 as they code themselves). Over four months of intermittent negotiations had their formal climax in just four days of tense exchanges in Addis. Even before they arrived everybody knew there would be no bold resolution to tackle the financing needs of the poorest. Traditional donors, struggling still with their own shaky economies, were in no mood for generosity, instead they were looking for alibis. The final Addis agreement has both North and South endorsing a minimalist, lowest common denominator model, with little for the poorest.

This means that the Post-2015 Agenda Summit, planned as a showcase of bold commitments to defeat poverty, will be more a gathering of embarrassed world leaders committing themselves to an unfunded agenda, maybe wisely renamed ‘Agenda 2030’. The harsh truth is that there is no plan for effective implementation.

Addis certainly had many big ideas on the table, but the problem was that there was little consensus on their content and many of the solutions have no proven viability. One of the most disturbing outcomes is that the poor living in the least developed countries (LDCs) or fragile states (g7+), had no champion amongst the power-brokers of the international community. Many one-time liberal voices amongst Western donors were almost as defensive on increasing aid volume as traditional misers such as the USA. Canada sadly (and Australia) has joined the USA and Japan in a cabal of development policy hard-liners in the eyes of the G77, drawing ‘red lines’ indicating forbidden ideas that were once norms of good policy. Progress was instead represented by gimmicky ideas with no money or concrete action plan. Canada boasted about Convergence, a ‘blended finance platform’, which sounded more like the name for a new perfume brand. We breathed a sigh of relief that nobody pressed for dates for the 0.7% aid target. [Canadian aid under Mr. Harper has sunk to 0.24%, close to an all-time low.]

Maybe worse, the powerful G77 countries, the BRICS and other leading voices seemed equally unsupportive of their weaker brethren. Instead they were preoccupied in Addis drawing their own ‘red lines’ as they sought to advance their own agendas. Key was international tax reform on which they fought a long battle with OECD countries. The case for more grant aid for the LDCs was not pressed by G77 leaders and unsurprisingly no enhanced LDC-specific target was set.

One of the new realities in the international dialogue of recent years is that the development agenda is being debated in much more than aid terms. This would be fine if the other new possible instruments being discussed were incremental (and proven viable) … and not being used to justify stagnant traditional grant aid, even for the poorest. The problem is that the latter is closer to the truth. Look at where Canada is placing its emphasis. We have steadily cut our ODA effort in the recent years. Instead we joined forces with such as the World Economic Forum, the club for multinational CEOs, in designing approaches to enhanced financing for the private sector, often the equivalent of investment subsidies. Roughly 5/30 pages of AAAA are on possible enhanced private sector activities and it took just two paras to reject more demanding aid volume targets.

The ‘proven viable’ is a key proviso. Most private investment in developing countries goes to a few strong middle-income economies such as Brazil, India and, of course, China. Virtually none goes to the LDCs where most ‘no one left behind’ poor are presently living, unskilled and under-educated. The only exception is profit-driven investors seeking privileged access to their raw materials. This does not seem like a ‘transformational‘ reality.

Significantly in Addis there were reportedly 500 or so activist CSOs, but private sector CEOs were essentially ‘no show’ actors, implicitly signaling their tenuous interest in being the West’s frontline warriors in eliminating extreme poverty.

The hottest topic in Addis was international tax reform: new rules that seek to end a situation where many private companies, those multinationals, evade fair tax obligations. This costs tax revenue in both those developing countries where multinationals have factories and in developed countries, their corporate homes. Instead these corporations hide their profits in tax havens or by phony transfer pricing. The battle in Addis was about who should lead the search for answers. At present this is done using tax reform ideas from the OECD Secretariat. The G77 argued that this work on what is a global problem must be centered in a strengthened UN framework, its Tax Committee. They saw OECD technical advice as seriously tainted; the OECD is home to most tax-evading multinationals. Both sides drew ‘red lines’ and in the end Addis saw a stand-off that leaves tax-evaders off the hook. No prize for guessing Canada’s side.

Canada was a blocking voice in Addis. We were leaders in the search for instruments that eased political pressures for more aid. We joined opposition to enhanced aid for LDCs. All this only reinforced our ever-diminished credibility with the developing world and even with once like-minded Western nations, (most Nordics, the UK), who still recognise their global responsibilities.. and longer-term interests in ending global poverty.

John Sinclair, a Cambridge-educated economist, worked as a development practitioner at CIDA and the World Bank. He is a member of the advocacy McLeod Group. He is a Distinguished Associate of the former North-South Institute.

Ministerial Mandate letter for Cdn. Development Co-operation


Ministerial Mandate letter for Development Co-operation[1]

You will serve as Minister of International Development Co-operation reporting directly to me as Prime Minister, with full cabinet membership. As Minister you will:


  • rebuild Canada’s capacity to be a strong global development actor after a decade of institutional neglect and distorted priorities
  • develop programs within a broad framework beyond the comfort zone of G7, G20 and OECD. Engaging the South is critical to Canada’s future well-being, economic, political and basic security.
  • have a departmental mandate, independent of the political and trade dimensions of foreign policy. However, policy coherence remains an important partnership goal for all government departments.
  • reconfirm poverty reduction as the core programming goal of this government, drawing substantially on the human and financial resources we allocate to CIDA as an organizational unit. The ODA Accountability Act will be a guiding framework for yourself and all other ministers with portfolios that affect developing countries. Canada’s grant aid should align with the UN’s Post-2015 Agenda. Take risks! Effective development co-operation is inherently risky.
  • present to Cabinet a new list of up to 20 priority countries within the first three months. In this update, least developed and fragile countries should represent at least 70% by number and $ volume of bilateral grant aid. The list should be stable for four years:
    • ‘need’ more than ‘absorptive capacity’ should be the core selection criteria
    • Canada’s Paris Declaration commitment to country ownership means sectoral/thematic choices are to be substantially shaped by the recipient
  • while recognizing the short-term budgetary constraints for Canada, plan for an increase in the ODA/GNI ratio to 0.30% in our first budget.

Additionally plan:

  • for increases to an ODA level of 0.50% of GNI over the mandate of this government
  • to move to multi-year budgetting to increase predictability


  • lead a department with its own DM and a strong decentralized presence in priority developing countries. It shall deliver Canada’s contribution as a donor to implementing the UN Post-2015 Agenda and a new mandate to bring a greater responsiveness to development considerations in the work of other political and economic departments.
    • work with the PMO, Treasury Board and Foreign Affairs on institutionalizing CIDA either as an essentially autonomous part of the existing DFATD or, if judged institutionally more effective, as a free-standing Ministry.
  • adopt the public title of ‘CIDA’ for your department, recouping a proud brand with five decades of global credibility as Canada’s public vehicle for development co-operation. This renaming decision is not dependent on there being a separate ministry.
  • ensure CIDA has these key features in its organizational architecture:
    • recognition that Canada’s economic and geo-political future lies in a broader approach, one based upon global partnerships, including stronger relations with the Global South.
    • resources for development co-operation, people, budgets and institutions, are not to be diverted into short-term benefits for Canadian private entities. [Private sector support will be provided by other departments.]
    • a new core mandate to act as a strong empathetic voice on development issues in government decision-making. The present amalgamation model has failed to deliver this. Critically CIDA will have a mandate that extends beyond delivering traditional aid (ODA) to one of also influencing the substance of related aspects of Canadian international policy, notably in trade, geo-politics/global security, human rights and global institutions, financial and environmental.
  • create a small, truly independent, advisory panel for CIDA. The panel should be a mix of independent Canadians plus two leading thinkers from developing countries.
  • re-authorize and recruit a 50% international board for the IDRC; Canadian board members should be individuals with substantial development experience, drawn from such as academia, CSOs and think-tanks.
  • recognise the rights of CSOs as independent development actors. Provide programmatic financial support to both domestic NGOs and developing country CSOs
  • recognizing the damage in recent years to professional competence and commitment, work over the first 12 months to bring together a re-energised core staff for CIDA, largely of committed skilled professionals/effective bureaucrats who seek a career in international development.
  • appoint a DM with a substantial international experience; seek ADMs for core programs (bilateral, partnership, multilateral, policy) with a solid development policy and programming background
  • create a rotational CIDA cadre mainly serving in bilateral programming positions, with a goal of having half assigned to empowered decentralized positions under decentralized managers with meaningful delegated authority, in all priority developing countries.
  • eliminate, within the next three years, an important inconsistency for international development policy cohesion by moving departmental responsibility for the World Bank Group, still the single most powerful multilateral development institution, to CIDA
  • for deeper policy coherence, ensure that CIDA has effective representation in Canada’s teams managing policy and programming relations with the UN system, BWIs, WTO, plus policy fora such as the G7/G20, Development Committee and OECD/DAC.

[1] This blog is a mock document representing a preferred Mandate Letter from a next Prime Minister to his new ministers. The principal recipient of this draft is a new Minister of International Development Co-operation. Copies as guidance might go to new Ministers for Trade, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Treasury Board, Defence and Environment.


First published as a MG Blog – June 16/2015.


Universality and the SDGs- what’s good for the goose

What’s Good for the Goose: Universality and the SDGs

McLeod Group Blog, June 1, 2015:  John Sinclair

Universality – the idea that certain norms should apply to all countries alike – is a crucial feature of many aspects of international life, from the United Nations Charter to the Declarations of Human Rights. Still, the idea that wealthy nations should be submitted to the same standards as poor ones can be a surprisingly touchy political subject. The latest example is the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs are the successors to those simple, easy-to-understand Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire at the end of 2015. The MDGs centred on core social issues: poverty, basic education, maternal health and child mortality – simple, but seriously lacking in their comprehensiveness.

In September 2015 global leaders, including a hesitant Mr. Harper, will sign off on the UN’s Post-2015 Agenda. The centrepiece will be the SDGs, which apply to everybody, wherever they live. Unlike the MDGs, they are not targets designed by rich donors for poor recipients.

Universality in the SDGs has strength as a statement of solidarity, of rich with poor, of donor sharing with recipient. However, universality is not without its technical complications – for example, how can the same health target be used for Chad and Canada, yet still be a challenge for both? For some in Canada, universality has also become sensitive politically. To put it crudely: ‘How dare the UN try to judge us, a G7 country?’

In a globalized world, we need a universal agenda. The SDGs are that agenda, framed against three dimensions of sustainability – social, economic and environmental. They embrace a universe of challenges: ending extreme poverty; water for all; safe and sustainable cities; promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, with justice for all.

The new ‘universal’ targets will be voluntary. Each UN member-country will set its own targets for each SDG. This is a kind of global democracy at work. It also reflects the frustration of the less developed countries, who feel they were set up for failure by the old MDGs, which ‘imposed’ impossible targets. This humiliation was compounded by the failure of donors to deliver the financial and technical support needed by the poorest to reach those goals.

What does this all mean to Canada? As universal targets, the SDGs concern ordinary Canadians as much as Brazilians – safe births, cities without pollution and justice for everybody. Of course, solidarity involves effort, such as new funding for a neglected Statistics Canada to help collect more comprehensive data at home.

Instead, by refusing to engage actively, we have had little impact on the specifics of setting international goals, and the Harper government has had many moments of angst about the idea of universality, insisting that such rules simply cannot apply to a country like Canada. Conservative ministers say they have had enough already of busybody UN special rapporteurs coming to Canada and daring to tell us that we neglect, sometimes abuse, our indigenous people or our prison populations. In 2012, Minister Jason Kenney didn’t mince words in response to the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food’s concern with hunger in Canada, stating: ‘Canada is one of the wealthiest and most democratic countries in the world. We believe that the UN should focus on development in that the UN should focus on development in countries where people are starving’. We see another example of this evasive attitude towards universality in the Harper government’s refusal to set meaningful Canadian climate-change targets ahead of this year’s UN environment summit.

The same government pontificates on the importance of accountability in multilateral fora, insisting upon tough reporting regimes for developing countries. However, when it comes to Canadians, the government seems to say that international goals are not applicable to us.

Universality is seen in Europe and even in the US as a positive thing, as an act of global solidarity, as well as an opportunity to promote international goals by acting first at home. Universality should also be seen by our blinkered government as a helpful mechanism to encourage emerging economies to share global roles that Western countries have assumed for decades – the provision of development assistance, for example. Solidarity with old OECD colleagues is not enough. As Canadians, we should worry that our government’s egocentric behaviour regarding the SDGs will leave it evading some of its shared responsibility for tackling global poverty, and at the same time discouraging others from doing so.

Not least, ordinary Canadians have to be puzzled as to why a wealthy society such as ours would not wish to accept bold international targets that might also do some good for our own most vulnerable citizens.

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What’s Good for the Goose: Universality and the SDGs