The Development Impact of Foreign Aid: Story Re-told

There has been an intense debate in the literature over the reasons behind the loose developmental effects of foreign aid. Away from the straightforward reason that majority of aid flows follow political rather than development objectives (Kanbur et al., 1999; Dreher, et al. 2009). Further, several reasons have been introduced in the literature see for example (Radelet, 2008; Bräutigam and Knack, 2004, and others). However, these reasons can be condensed into two core causes, a) Lack of clear development agenda by the recipient countries which result in misallocation of aid and establishment of various simultaneous individual projects that even if successfully completed will have limited impact on the development of the target sectors; and b) The mismatch between donors, recipients, and target beneficiaries’ priorities and needs that create an aid system that is incapable and inadequate of achieving the entailed goals.

In response to common pitfalls of the aid system, a new setting for aid disbursements based on sector-wide approaches instead of individual projects was introduced by Kamel, et al. (1998) and was later modified by (Kanbur, et al. 1999) and evolved into a system entitled the ‘common pool approach’. Our following policy suggestions will build on these, however, we bring in some modifications for the system implementation and evaluation.

The basic rationale behind the common pool approach is that a pool of donors—instead of one— allocates unconditional funds to a recipient country’s nationally representative reform plan and its implementation strategy, instead of individual projects. Such a system would increase the recipient country’s sense of ownership and commitment while enhancing the achievability of developmental and reform goals relative to individual uncoordinated projects approach. The major drawback is the minimisation of aid received because many donors – besides political lobbies and private sector firms – might not agree to fund national plans instead of individual selective projects. In addition, donors’ ability to pursue their own interests, conditions, and opinions will dwindle. Anyhow, detailed discussion for the common pool system and sector-wide approach is found in formerly cited articles. Subsequently, we introduce a new system which combines both approaches, sector-wide and common pool, whilst including our personal reflections that will hopefully alleviate the expected drawbacks of these approaches.

 Figure A1 provides a basic graphical representation of the new blended system. The graph is elaborated in the following points,

  1. The recipient country starts to move in the direction of prohibiting all forms of aid transferred to individual uncoordinated projects, but rather allows only aid channeled towards sectoral reform plans.
  • The governmental authority with the cooperation of civil society, the private sector, policymakers, and citizens, formulate a reform plan for the target sector.
  • A series of roundtable meetings are held in the recipient country capital that involves potential donors (single and multilateral), international experts, and other national parties in order to receive feedback on the preliminary proposal (sponsoring the meetings in the recipient country would ease national parties’ involvement and cooperation, which reflects in a higher sense of belonging and ownership).
  • A final neat version of the proposal is then reformulated along with its implementation strategy that involves foreign and domestic shares. For instance, technical and human resources in the implementation strategy are distributed as 70% domestic and 30% by the donor’s side. One major drawback of the common pool approach is the lack of donor involvement in the implementation, which in essence is a good thing to increase the sense of ownership by the recipient. However, this is reflected in lower lobbying by the private sector and political parties in the donor country to step forward for similar approaches. We, therefore, propose a cooperative share of interests, however still managed and authorised by the domestic country and in the framework of the domestic strategy.
  • The donor authority in this phase lies in accepting or rejecting the plan and the amount of fund provided, based on credibility and achievability of the plan.
  • Donors together with the recipient responsible authority would agree on a set of quantifiable and measurable assessment measures that are monitored and reported by the authority itself, though donors are also allowed to intervene in the monitoring and evaluation of these measures. This is an incentive for the authority and other parties involved in the strategy to abide by the rules and the plan. Also, in the case of system corruption, which is the likely case in the majority of developing and poor countries, it is well known that foreign assessment might intervene anytime to inspect and evaluate. In addition, donors will be more relieved and secure when they have a hand in the evaluation process, unlike the common pool approach which prohibits any form of foreign intervention in the process unless requested by the recipient.
  • Finally, a renewable annual funding plan is offered based on the realisation of these measures; failure to abide by the authority results in a violation of the contract. By doing this we eliminate any chances of aid misallocation, corruptive activities, and other illegal traits because the recipient knows for sure that failure will hinder any future possibilities of funding for other reform plans. Moreover, the ex-ante participation of civil society and citizens makes the government accountable to the public, which also affects their political popularity.

Eventually, let me conclude with this phrase from Kanbur, et al. (1999) “The possibility of the decline in aid will require a substantial amount of confidence on the part of recipients who adopt the approach. It requires a government with the willpower to say to donors: ‘Here is my program in this sector: if you wish to help me implement it, you are most welcome. If you wish to do something different, I regret that you are not welcome in this sector in this country.” The foremost outcome of the proposed blended system, common pool, and sector-wide approaches, is filtration of aid received by the recipient, by adopting these approaches, will be able to locate donors that endeavor no hidden, political, or ideological agendas but only support the recipient country’s development efforts.

References:

Hassan, Sherif (2016): Seventy Years of Official Development Assistance: Reflections on the Working Age Population. MPRA, Paper Nr. 74835.

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