Global Nightmare – Trump and a new geopolitical order


Global nightmare, false alarm — or a first step to a new geopolitical order?

posted OU CIPS.  November 22, 2016. John Sinclair

[ Also see expanded text  published Dec 2016 on ‘Policy Options’ ]

We have had a few days now to calm our jangling nerves. President-elect Trump has already had a civilized conversation with President Obama and “promised” to keep a couple of features from Obamacare. But he is going to be an almost omnipotent president, controlling both Congress and Senate and, maybe worse for Americans, shaping the Supreme Court for a decade or more.

Is this the end of the world as we know it? Or was the US, even under Obama, already fading as the all-purpose global leader? After a decade of badly mismanaged global and domestic economic policies, plus a series of costly interventions across Asia and the Middle East, the US is nobody’s favourite. China and Russia, especially if they collaborate, are as likely to be global stars in the next two decades. China may also regain its traditional economic lead as it completes its shift to pro-poor, internal consumption-driven growth (stabilizing at a healthy 7% p.a.). Interestingly Trump may launch that very same domestic strategy to meet the demands of his core voters, the “left behind” poor white males.

However, Trump will never emerge as a closet liberal, even if he has already wriggled away from some extreme positions on Obamacare and that Mexican wall. As Paul Krugman notes, even a Trump-inspired Keynesian push, including some tax cuts for the rich, is temporarily better than more years of global financial crisis. Indeed, for development folks, some of Trump’s messages actually resonate with the core theme of the just-launched UN Agenda 2030 and its “no one left behind” signature policy.

There is no such silver lining for the Paris treaty on climate change. The Morocco meeting that just formalized the treaty used a legalistic trick to undermine the Trump threat by denying any signatory the right to withdraw for the next four years. Of course, Trump and his team will likely do much damage inside the US itself, although a couple of European leaders have suggested that any country failing to meet its carbon reduction targets could be sanctioned via tariffs. The Trump threat could certainly have an inhibiting effect on Canada’s plan for a carbon tax. We will have to grit our teeth and hope for the promised new job benefits of green technology. Maybe California, which already coordinates green policies with us, will simply opt to join Canada.

Trump’s international policy stances will likely lead to a completely new set of geopolitical partnerships. Around such Security Council issues as human rights or development, we may start to see an alignment of Trump’s USA with Russia and China pushing back with their triple veto. On the liberal side might be a diminished EU, supported by Canada, and a struggling post-Brexit but still veto-wielding UK.

It is hard to define the future path for Japan and India, who have no inclination to cow-tow to China, but desperately need access and partnership for their own growth.

To break out economically, Japan must reconcile itself to substantial immigration for the person-power to sustain a strong economy. Failure means likely joining the post “hard Brexit” UK as a struggling, once major economy.

India has a more optimistic outlook. It is now the world’s fastest growing population, but that lead is an aberration, the result of China’s pro-poor, internally focused growth  policy. India must accommodate with China; their complementarity of mindsets and management skills could produce a great partnership. If that fails, India will likely align with the US, but only post-Trump.

Under Trump, the US might seek once again to be the hegemon for all the Americas. This will likely fail. Why would Brazil or Argentina give up their policy independence? They will wait for Trump to go, hoping that the USA regains its place as a world leader, but a chastened one, as a sensible social democracy like its neighbour to the north.

Africa, with the biggest concentration of the world’s poorest, must find the political will to move to a more inclusive, more equitable political model. It is starting on that political journey, but slowly and erratically. The prospects of losing a significant part of the USAID programme under Trump will be a major setback. The growing impact of global-warming-induced droughts on Africa has its own accelerating pace even without Trump’s Myron Ebell compounding it.

The Middle East has much healing still to do from the series of wars, often rooted in US post-9/11 paranoia: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Palestine. The US is now more a struggling ambiguous peacemaker than an active warmonger. The recent accommodation between Russia and the US in fighting ISIS may deepen under President Trump, who seems to want no role in such costly situations. This is a possible “plus” point for Trump’s impact (Hillary was the greater hawk) but it will take longer than Trump’s term to achieve the physical and political rehabilitation needed to put this region back on its feet.

This framework has many suggested challenges for Canada. Canada cannot hope to be immune from the certain shake up for US political actors, both the inner elites and the grassroots, but should instead seize this forced opportunity for bold changes.

Canada will join the immediate diplomatic effort to get the Trump administration to recognize the folly of not confronting the existential threat of global warming. We will retain our historic linkages to the weakened EU and UK but recognize they can no longer be sufficient. We also need to understand and respond proactively to the major shifts of power in Asia. We need to connect to new partnership networks with Asia, critically China and India, and perhaps by-pass the US to link more strongly with Latin America.

Finally, we must not overlook our commitment to implementing Agenda 2030, ensuring “no one left behind,” not only in the American rust belt, but globally.

Expanded version in Policy Options,





From ‘Assistance’ to Cooperation and Partnership :Policy Options

The countries we help through international assistance are no longer just recipients, but partners in a global mission to meet sustainable development goals.

September 20, 2016. published in ‘Policy Options’. 

The global economic crisis of 2008, and the stagnation and political crises that followed, have made us acutely aware that our future can no longer rely on relationships with other developed countries. The North (basically OECD countries) and the South (developing countries), rich and poor, must increasingly cooperate.

Our vocabulary and thinking is changing. We are moving beyond what we used to call “assistance,” the charitable response of richer nations to global poverty, to something less paternalistic. We now talk of “development cooperation.” Today’s assistance is multifaceted, and includes more than just financial and technical aid. It can include preferential tariffs on goods from the least­developed countries (LDCs); tweaking the legal frameworks defining what constitutes a refugee; and adjusting intellectual property rules to allow for preferential transfers of technology to LDCs. Development cooperation also encompasses a topic that is particularly hot today: fair payment of taxation by foreign investors, for example, a Canadian mining company operating in a poor African country.

As the federal government reviews its international assistance policies, it should be guided by this evolving vision of development, with financial aid as just one component. The UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development will shape how the government approaches cooperation, seeing the countries it assists as partners in a collective mission to alleviate poverty, rather than mere recipients.

Building relationships through partnerships and enhanced development cooperation

Looking ahead, for political, commercial and security reasons, Canada will need to engage with a more complex array of actors. Some of these countries will be very poor. Our trading and investment partners are as likely to be emerging developing economies as they are familiar OECD countries. The BRICS and other middle­income countries (MICs) are already competing with the United States and other G­7 nations as economic actors. They are reshaping global markets as suppliers and buyers, sometimes as equity investors. The economies of these countries are growing much faster than ours is, even during this extended period of economic stagnation. Today’s BRICS superstar is India, which, despite its 300 million poor, is now growing at about 7 percent per year — faster than China.


Critically, more and more developing countries, even the poorest, are changing socially: they are more democratic, and their populations are better educated, with growing expectations of enhanced well­being for their sons and daughters. These expectations are often frustrated by Northern unwillingness to share old privileges and power that have been jealously guarded since the Second World War. One symbolic battlefield is around fairer, more representative governance of global institutions such as the IMF and World Bank. The battle, often driven by the BRICS, has led to the creation of several parallel global financial institutions. One recent (2015) dramatic step was the creation by China of its US$50 billion+ Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. We saw most major European countries rushing to join as founding contributors, despite very public US objections. Canada belatedly asked China if it could join, after stalling for months under US pressure.

These rapidly changing power relationships between Southern and Northern powers yield a key message: Canada, as a middle power that was substantially absent from the global dialogue for a decade, has a lot of catching up to do. We need new friends, new partnerships in the world.

Obvious candidates are the BRICS, notably China, India and Brazil; but there are also emerging lower­middle­income developing countries (LMICs) such as Ghana, Vietnam, Indonesia, even Egypt or Nigeria. These and other nations could soon be important trade and investment partners for Canada. Of course, old neighbours and friends in the OECD and the G­7 will still be important, but they won’t be enough. Indeed, some of them are already ahead of Canada in building their own new South­facing partnerships.

An enhanced development cooperation approach is a key entry point, a place where we can build relationships and demonstrate our merit as a good partner, to show mutual respect and build trust. However, such partnerships require more than a 24­hour drop­by trade mission, with Canadian politicians desperately searching for a few deals to sign. We need sustained engagements on the ground, over decades, sharing in the struggles of partner countries to end poverty.

Canada was such an engaged partner for many decades. CIDA was the vehicle for our development cooperation activities since the late 1960s — activities that were seen as innovative (the first to provide funding for multiyear programs, rather than individual NGO­led projects) and generous (our aid level peaked at 0.54 percent of GNI in 1975 under Pierre Trudeau). But our leadership presence slowly faded, first from the austerity measures under the Chrétien government, then from the very ambiguous engagement of the Harper years, when our credibility as an innovative donor decreased. Programs became more politicized, and budget cuts sent overall international assistance to a low of 0.23 percent of gross national income (GNI).

But who now should be the beneficiaries of our development assistance? The 2030 United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development’s core target is to eliminate extreme poverty. The extremely poor population largely resides within the LDCs. Unfortunately, the Harper era saw a distortion toward countries that were considered political or commercial favourites, rather than toward the LDCs. Looking forward, the poorest, still numbering about 1 billion, are in two overlapping country groupings. These are the 48 UN­listed LDCs and some 20 “fragile” countries that are vulnerable and conflict­-afflicted, such as Haiti. An updated list of countries of focus for Canada is urgently needed, and it should consist mainly of LDCs and the ‘fragiles’. Our funding for LDCs should meet the UN aid target of 0.20 percent of GNI.


Aid focused on the poorest will meet our commitment under Agenda 2030’s signature principle of “No ­One Left Behind.” However, it does not preclude development cooperation with a few middle­ income countries with whom Canada has important strategic or historic ties, such as the Caribbean states. For them, there could be customized agreements, partnerships or actions that do not require diverting scarce aid. These could focus on arrangements around trade, investment, technology transfer and fairer taxation. They could include possible new cooperation instruments that seek to help engage the private sector, or so­called “triangular cooperation”: innovative aid projects involving partnerships between Canada, a new developing country donor such as Brazil or China, and an LDC or other poorer country.

The 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development as our guide

The universality principle embedded in the preamble of Agenda 2030 brings development cooperation into the heart of Canadian domestic policy. It means all countries, developing and developed, are committed to the same goals as core economic and social performance targets. It is Canada’s statement of global solidarity. This “obligation,” essentially putting Canada on equal footing with developing nations, was once seen as an unacceptable intrusion by former Conservative foreign affairs minister John Baird.

There is a synergy between many of the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the Trudeau government’s core domestic policy commitments such as working toward gender equity, tackling neglect of our Indigenous population and fighting climate change. This synergy is being taken very seriously as a domestic policy mandate by many Western countries. Already the leaders of Germany and Finland have made full public presentations in the UN on their “whole of government” governance structures for SDGs. Canada has been slower to act, and we have yet to announce our plan. Logically it should be driven by a powerful office that reports directly to the prime minister, and coordinates and monitors activities in partnership with the provinces and territories.

Canada is now in the middle of a complex consultation, seeking new thinking on how to be a better development cooperation partner. Drawing upon Agenda 2030, there are easy­to­select thematic priorities such as gender equity, climate change and poverty elimination. But the real challenge is how we frame and implement the new programs. The rules of the game have changed. Under the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness, recipient countries should be in the driver’s seat. Partnership is becoming the new norm of international development cooperation. We need to learn how to work differently: it is not a federal department’s choices but the recipient’s stated priorities that should dictate the framework for development cooperation. To this end we will need new cooperation strategies that are prepared jointly with our partner countries. Such strategies should be built around stable four­ to five­year budget commitments.


All this means we need to recognize the many practical challenges confronting Canada’s aid officials and partners like civil society organizations. We could start by reclaiming the name CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency), the brand recognized by ordinary Canadians and our partner­ recipients. Global Affairs Canada staff involved in implementing development programs need empathetic senior managers who understand that some of the most effective work is inherently risky. Tidy goals set in Ottawa often fail to internalize the challenges of working in another continent and culture. Finally, the government requires staff who are working closely with their clients on the ground. This requires decentralization — Global Affairs’ development assistance teams working out of our embassies with delegated authority.

As long as they are generous, and delivered effectively and with commitment, our development cooperation programs in the least developed and middle­income countries can be key to the future economic and political partnerships Canada needs as a middle power in a troubled world.



John Sinclair.    September 20, 2016

G20 needs new blood, sense of mission

The Hill Times  OPINION

by John Sinclair. 

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016

G20 needs new blood, sense of mission

Trudeau might suggest a tighter-knit forum for decisions on core global issues, starting with climate change.

As China prepares to host the G20 leaders’ summit for the first time this week, it is promising a different kind of summit, one focused on global development and the challenges of implementing the pro-poor goals of the UN’s new Agenda 2030.

But China seems fated to do little better than past chairs. The G20 is starting to look as tired as the G7. It needs new blood and a new sense of mission. Perhaps there are too many Europeans; certainly there is no voice at the table for the poorest nations.

The G20 started in 1999 as a club of finance ministers mainly G7 but augmented by the BRICS and a few other friendly minor countries, including some middle-income developing countries. The goal was to make symbolic amends for an ineffective International Monetary Fund response to the recent Asian financial crisis.

The world has avoided a new depression in 2008 via massive stimulus packages implemented by a G20, upgraded to a Leaders’ Summit. However, the regulatory reform of the flawed global financial systems that triggered the crisis is still unfinished. Indeed, the situation has been compounded by the ripple effect of recent European financial disorder. As for the upcoming United States election, it is being fought over who can most forcefully say globalization is the cause of all our social ills, including growing inequality and underemployment.

The global financial crisis continues into its eighth year. And it is in the second year of a refugee crisis, as Europe copes badly with the flow of battered humanity escaping the conflict in Syria. The Brexit referendum bombshell, driven by the UK’s own distinct crisis of unwanted migrants from inside the European Union, has stunned an already stalled Europe. Deep depression describes the mood in the very dis-united United Kingdom. Meanwhile many countries, rich and poor, are struggling with trade losses due to China’s policy of a calculated slowdown to 6.5 per cent growth.

China has perhaps over-invited developing countries as summit guests since there will be no big news, no bold new G20 action, no new aid pledges for the least developed or fragile states. Everybody is waiting for a breakthrough in the gloomy economic news.

But the latest IMF forecasts are all about shrinking growth. Global growth is down to 3.1 per cent for 2016, with most of that coming from emerging economies. They’re led by India, moving slightly ahead of China. The growth forecast for so-called advanced economies is just 1.8 per cent. All this is conveniently blamed upon Brexit. It means a major G20 preoccupation this weekend will be how to help the UK and EU find a soft landing after the folly of that referendum.

So what might we see out of Hangzhou? The working agenda is dominated by work by  finance ministers and central bank governors. There is again a pre-negotiated communiqué. The Leaders appear somewhat bystanders.

Once more there will be “almost completed” deals on structural reform, tougher regulation of footloose bankers and this year’s special innovation: promises of more infrastructure spending. Talk about reformed international financial architecture is promised, but the horse is already out of the stable, symbolized by China’s new $50-billion-plus Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. [Canada announced plans to finally join just days before the G20 meeting.]

Another round of technical debate is needed to forge a broad consensus around so-called tax fairness reform. The present package is essentially designed for large/high-income economies.  In many European countries public pressure insists governments stop tax-avoiding, profit-shifting companies like Starbucks or Google. But the same OECD countries are home to multinational giants seeking every way of avoiding paying taxes. The weakest victims, poorer developing countries, are essentially excluded from both the design and benefits of new OECD/G20 anti-tax-evasion measures. They are to be denied access to key data on taxes evasion by multinational giants.

What key innovations for an enhanced G20 might Prime Minister Justin Trudeau press? He has gone to China a few days early to “reset” the bilateral relationship. He might use that access and Chinese respect for his prime ministerial father’s boldness to get China’s sympathetic ear for an effort to transform the G20 into strictly a leaders’ dialogue.

They need to break the common image of the G20 as a vehicle used by a tired G7 to try to get the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) to align with their worldview. Mr. Trudeau might suggest that leaders act more boldly to revamp the G20 as a tighter-knit forum for debate and decisions on core global issues, economic and political, starting with climate change. An encouraging precedent is that reportedly the United States and China plan to jointly announce their ratification of the Paris climate agreement on the eve of the summit.

Another G20 initiative could be a new Marshall Plan designed to assure financing, public and private, for the poorest countries in implementing the UN’s Agenda 2030.

And why not encourage the 2017 G20, under German leadership, to target a lasting peace for the Middle East?

G20 finance ministers and central bankers would still have their own high-level meetings on topics like upgraded financial regulation. They could simply mandate a small delegation to report at one session of an otherwise leaders-only G20 meeting.

Acting together, G20 leaders could mobilize the resources and political willpower to counter the economic pessimism reflected in Trumpism and the rise of the radical conservative right in Europe. They should also show the driving spirit to ensure the UN Agenda 2030 is not a fanciful dream, but something realizable.

The G20 needs a more compact forum, but one with the inclusiveness of the UN. It could start by adding a permanent seat for least-developed and fragile states, perhaps by reducing the disproportionate European presence.

John Sinclair is a Cambridge-educated economics graduate formerly with the Canadian International Development Agency and the World Bank. He comments on international development with the McLeod Group, teaches, and writes.



Country of Focus – IAR submission

IAR Submission: John Sinclair

Subject: Focus: core recommendations… and some key footnotes.

  • focus country selection should be overwhelmingly driven by pro-poor, UN Agenda 2030 policy criteria, not residual drivers from Harper-era commercial/ political motivation (e.g. Colombia and Mongolia)


  • focus at the country level is sound policy in development effectiveness terms. For a meaningful ODA presence and significant policy influence, a critical mass of presence, financial and human, is needed. With a likely fixed ODA budget pool, too many priority countries means sub-optimal impact, developmental and in terms of partnership credibility. [1]This might be in 2016 terms perhaps an annual[2] budget of say $50m or maybe more for a very vulnerable LDC/fragile state like Haiti or an Ethiopia. . We are a small donor and for impact we need a sustained, substantive presence, including decentralised Canadian development cooperation staff.  An optimal number of focus/core countries, based upon Canadian policy considerations, and also best practice as displayed by similarly-minded bilateral donors (notably Nordics, UK, Dutch), might be say 15-20 countries. PM Harper increased the number from 20 to 25, perhaps to give the impression of being more generous, but of course with a fixed overall budget each of them received less ODA.  He also chose to drop some small but very poor African LDCs which offered no ‘geopolitical’ gains.


  • Good focused development programing needs to be built around a professionally strong and empowered decentralised programming team. Canada is somewhat a laggard[3] in this approach compared to most of our peers. But this is the basis of a healthy collegial relationship with any focus country.


  • Under a new focus policy, a small number (10-15) of ‘other’ 2nd tier aid presence countries might be identified and provided with modest levels of bilateral aid for reasons of historic or other linkages, e.g. such to complete ongoing multi-year commitments. Of note, this has been the key political rationale for a special regional programme with the Caribbean.


  • One concern on focus expressed by some (e.g. CSOs, academics) is that it risks us neglecting a class of usually smaller, resource–poor countries, so-called ‘orphans’, who have no special political friends or strategic interest to big powers or other major donors. These critics suggest that a mid-sized donor like Canada might specifically focus on such countries as a sign of its ‘empathy’ – give more aid to a few relatively under-aided countries. A superior approach to the ‘orphan country’ problem is by recognising the greater effectiveness of multilateral entities such as UN agencies like UNDP and MFIs like the ADB). They are best placed to get aid to possible ‘orphan’ countries. Ensuring orphan countries are not forgotten should certainly be a responsibility for sympathetic bilaterals such as Canada, but not by direct management, but rather by using our position on the executive boards of multilateral entities to insist that they allocate money[4] /effort in this way. This means that support for ‘orphans’ is spread across the whole donor community, perhaps requiring better, increase core funding of such as UNDP or the ADB. The rare exception for a direct role might be where Canada has special historical ties, such as to the Caribbean and some other small Commonwealth countries, but these countries are not orphans but actually receive higher than average aid per capita.


  • To build solid partnership relations and provide predictable[5] resource transfers, a Canadian list of focus countries should be reviewed no more than once every four years/on a change of government, with a strong predisposition to continuity if the country is still low-income/LDC/fragile country. Their annual budget should be based upon commitments[6] under a mutually agreed multi-year framework.  Our programming should be based upon a mutually agreed programming framework, a partnership agreement with the recipient government. [ We might seek to encourage a role for their CSOs/local think-tanks in designing that framework.]


  • firm and transparent selection criteria aligned with ODAA Act principles should apply. Focus Countries selected should be predominantly (75-80%) low-income/least developed and fragile states (g7+), We should eliminate commercial or political weight in their selection.


  • Focus is not just a list of countries, but should involve a complementary concentration of GAC financial/ODA and human resources in designing and delivering programs. Optimally 80% of bilateral ODA might be devoted to focus countries and 80% of that go to low-income LDCs/fragiles.


  • Thematic focus (e.g. MNCH) is a distinct policy issue and best dealt with separately. The best practice consensus, to which Canada has always signed up, is the Paris Declaration mantra of ‘country ownership’. Canada should not be trying to impose its policy priorities on countries, exploiting the vulnerability of the poorest countries. Agenda 2030 reiterates the message of country ownership, indicating that each recipient should set the tone and content of the development relationship. We, of course, via our hopefully improved programming dialogue and decentralisation, will be close enough to them to convincingly share many of our most important insights and make them aware of our special competences. But that is fundamentally different from arriving with our plan in hand for running their The latter is old-fashioned neo-colonialism and should be passé in a quality partnership[7].


  • Focus countries would also be prime Canadian candidates for important non-aid policies such as trade preferences, investment, educational partnerships, etc. This is more true now than ever in a world where we see successfully developing LDCs and MICs as important longer-term trading and investment partners. It also makes good sense in a Canadian government that see major synergy gains from a whole of government



John Sinclair – Aug 2016

[1] A realistic target might be to be say the 5th largest donor to the LDCs/fragiles in our revised list of priority countries within next 2 years – it takes time to develop new programming, especially in these countries with their weaker absorptive capacity. We will need in parallel to new funding, to upgrade our field presence by greater decentralisation.

[2] Recall that a typical aid project in today’s world where programmatic aid is the developmental optimum, may have a multi-year budget of $100m.  [for large IFIs the optimum size for a 4-5 year project might be $300-500m]. The old style $10m CIDA project is not something any but the poorest of developing country governments would welcome as optimal. That size is closer to a large NGO project, a good vehicle for piloting but likely to have limited direct national impact/relevance/ substantial bureaucratic overhead costs to both donor and recipient.

[3] A major impediment to decentralization can be the discomfort that senior management in CIDA/GAC feel at having important decisions effectively taken closer to the client than to the DM or Minister. This was always a false excuse; a Minister’s input is optimally strategic, not micro-detail.  This concern is even less justified now with internet and video conferencing. The World Bank is decentralized almost everywhere now since the late-90s, after resisting board members like Canada for years. Decentralisation is inevitably modestly more expensive but there are major gains in quality, trust and effectiveness. [ click above link to separate blog]

[4] we need in parallel to ensure they have the incremental core ODA funding to carry out this task… and Canada needs to drastically reduce its past practice of ear-marking fund allocation in the UN and the IFIs

[5] Predictability is a key topic for aid-dependent LDCs. Their budget situation is often very fragile, even without a global crisis. Their programming for basic services like education and health is often very dependent on a steady flow of core funding from several donors. It is a difficult balancing act for the finance minister of a typical LDC.

[6] See separate IAR submission by John Sinclair entitled ‘A new GAC programming style for LDCs’. Our own formally one-year budget cycle does not forbid multi-year commitments.  In Canada we plan domestically on a multi-year basis with no problems and aid is a tiny % of any Canadian federal budget. If we have a financial crisis, no LDC is going to sue us for breach of contract, indeed we will likely be all getting together in the G20 for a global recovery plan. For many years CIDA had multi-year planning framework (IPFs, Indicative Planning Frameworks). These were usually shared with recipients so that they know for several years what financial support they could expect … and put into their budget planning framework. It is easy and indeed more strategic for a cabinet, theirs and ours, to plan on that basis.  It and creates stability in our own country programming and IAE budgeting.

[7] In a world where Canada is seeking broad relationship/partnerships for non-development reasons such as support via votes for a UN Security Council seat, we need trusting, respectful relationships with developing countries. Bullying is bad practice and we do not even have the relative strength to succeed in this unCanadian role.

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.