Tracking the Independent Review: Measuring up the Multilaterals

The Australian Government’s Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness recommended an assessment of the multilateral organisations that the Government funds as part of Australia’s aid program. In response AusAID implemented the ‘Australian Multilateral Assessment’. This process is designed to assess multilateral institutions by ranking them against a fixed set of criteria.

As part of our ‘Tracking the Aid Review’ project, AID/WATCH is releasing alternative profiles of multilateral agencies that consider criteria that AusAID is not looking at, including ecological impact and footprint, genuine pro-poor focus and commitment to working with the poor, not merely on their behalf.

AID/WATCH’s introductory analysis of the Australian Multilateral Assessment, Tracking the Independent Review: Measuring up the Multilaterals, looks at the criteria AusAID has used and questions the objectives and of the process and its capacity to deliver aid more effectively.

 

The $1.3b Question: Where Is Your Aid Money Going?

AusAID moved quickly to implement the ‘Australian Multilateral Assessment’ (AMA), a process recommended by the Government’s Independent Review. This process is designed to assess multilateral institutions by ranking them against a fixed set of criteria. As part of our ‘Tracking the Aid Review’ project, AID/WATCH has released alternative profiles of multilateral agencies that consider criteria that AusAID is not looking at, including ecological impact and footprint, genuine pro-poor focus and commitment to working with the poor, not merely on their behalf.

 

Changing the Paradigm or More of the Same?

Around 40 per cent of Australia’s aid budget ($1.3 billion in 2009-10) goes to international institutions, also known as multilateral agencies. These agencies range from specialised United Nations divisions to development banks to a new breed of public/private partnership organisations. Their share of the aid budget is set to increase significantly as a result of the Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness, released in 2011. The Review recommended, among other things, that core funding (that is, unrestricted funding) be significantly increased as a percentage of the total aid program.

AID/WATCH has taken a strong interest in this process. It may lead to very large funding increases to agencies whose development philosophy and performance we have previously critiqued, such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, as well as to more effective organisations such as the Global Crop Diversity Trust or the United Nations Population Fund. It will certainly involve an AusAID investment worth several hundred million dollars, which could make a massive difference to the life of the global poor – but it could also lead to ‘development’ projects that will perpetuate and deepen poverty.

 

An AID/WATCH Analysis

AID/WATCH has looked at four agencies likely to receive the most scrutiny in the process. Instead of narrowly based set of criteria, we looked at four holistic indicators that speak to their ability to end global poverty and take actions of relevance to the global poor. We consider these criteria to be the glaring omissions from the AusAID review. Two of them are among AusAID’s most favoured multilateral agencies, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. Together they represent the single biggest channel for Australian aid, some 17% of the total aid program. The other two agencies analysed are examples that have come in for significant criticism by both the UK review and preliminary comments by the, then, foreign minister, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Our review looked at

  1. Human Development – what is the agencies development approach and how relevant is their mandate to human development.
  2. Ecological Impact – ecology is the long overlooked development challenge whilst at the same time ‘greenwashing’ is on the increase. Does the agency commit to conservation or just talk about it.
  3. Working with the Poor – too often, agencies work on behalf of the poor, without ever asking them. Does this agency genuinely work with poor people and their organisations on issues of importance to them?
  4. Development Politics – Where does the agency stand on fundamental issues such as trickledown effect, neoliberalism and the politics of development?

The attached profiles are not comprehensive, but show a snapshot of each agency in areas that AusAID won’t be looking. Whilst each agency has its flaws it is clear that there are significant problems that won’t be addressed by the multilateral review as well as significant strengths that won’t be picked up, illustrating the problematic approach of a uniform ranking system.

For example, in terms of representation the FAO and the ILO have structures where poor people’s organisations are able to debate policy and influence the organisation, whilst the World Bank and Asian Development Bank are highly state centric and centralise control of the organisation in the hands of the developed countries. Another factor looked at is development approach, some organisations take holistic views of development looking at human well-being whilst other take a purely economic point of view.

The purpose of these frameworks is not to recommend one multilateral agency over another, but to illustrate the complexities of rigid ranking systems and the variety of factors that influence multilateral agencies. AusAID must consider each multilateral agency on its own merits.

 

AID/WATCH Assessments

Read the AID/WATCH assessments of the four multilateral organisations attached below.

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