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: https://jsinclair43.wordpress.com

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: http://cips.uottawa.ca/is-canada-fit-for-purpose-in-the-face-of-a-new-global-agenda-2/#sthash.1Mut8LAG.dpuf

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.