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Letter to Minister Maria Minna on Strengthening Aid Effectiveness

September 28, 2001

The Honourable Maria Minna
Minister of International Cooperation
200 Promenade du Portage
Hull, Quebec
K1A 0G4

Dear Minister Minna:

I am writing to congratulate you on the very comprehensive set of hearings, which you just completed on CIDA’s Strengthening Aid Effectiveness paper. These hearings were not only an occasion for Canadians to comment on CIDA’s future directions, they were also the most important set of public hearings on Canadian international cooperation since the government’s foreign policy review in 1995. Many Canadians have taken the time to discuss among themselves the issues and questions raised by CIDA’s new policy directions to improve its aid effectiveness.While the pace of hearings was challenging for the best of times, we know that as a result of travel disruptions arising from the horrendous terrorist attack on the United States, you made an extra-ordinary effort to be present for the Vancouver hearings. I know that your commitment to listen carefully to, and at times challenge, those present was widely appreciated as a model for inclusive consultation.

Last week, hearings wrapped up in three sessions in Ottawa. My colleagues at CCIC have been closely following the discussions across the country over the past several weeks. I wanted to take this opportunity to draw your attention briefly to several observations and to clarify my views on a number of questions that you posed to hearing participants, particularly during the second week.

Presenters came from a wide range of organizations with many years of deep involvement in international cooperation; and many of them have very effectively drawn from this experience to comment on the strategies for strengthening aid effectiveness (particularly in longer briefs that have been posted on CIDA’s web site).I am sure that you have noted, as we have, some consistent widely shared messages, almost irrespective of the particular sector or organization making their case before you:

Concentration on poverty reduction and/or eradication as the only and ultimate goal for CIDA was strongly expressed by many. You affirmed at the Ottawa hearings the human security implications of the calamity and crimes of New York and the response to terrorism. As I noted in my presentation in Ottawa human security is intimately connected to expanding human solidarity and choosing justice, acting together with those who perceive themselves as permanently excluded from the benefits of the global order. International development cooperation, and particularly aid, is a vital channel for the expression of Canadian human solidarity. CIDA is a privileged institution, as it alone among government ministries can choose to focus all its resources and intelligence on the imperative to end poverty.

Sectoral and Geographic Concentration. We noted that CIDA’s suggestions for concentration of effort and focus raised a complex mix of issues and responses from participants. Nevertheless the common assumption of a poverty purpose for CIDA influenced many participants in their answers to questions as to how to determine which sectors and which countries. You heard strong endorsement for deepening CIDA’s social development priorities within a comprehensive poverty framework, and also for a poverty lens in making choices for geographic concentration.

In fact our own analysis of bilateral programming suggests that CIDA is not nearly as dispersed as CIDA’s recently published Statistical Report for 1999/2000 might suggest. Rather than 38% of bilateral aid directed to the top 30 country recipients, about 74% of bilateral assistance is directed to these countries when regional bilateral programming and humanitarian assistance (IHA) are removed from the calculation. Given the importance and the rationale for regional programming and the unpredictability of IHA, reallocation of resources among these 30 countries to a smaller number may not significantly improve the scale of our resource commitments nor thereby affect our influence. As a number of participants have stated, our effectiveness and impact may have more to do with the role that Canada can play in a given country than the absolute dollars that are available for country programs.

But if choices are to be made to select "core countries", there was widespread agreement that criteria related to poverty reduction should be the determining factor. It is therefore all the more important, as we have suggested in our July briefing note on the SAE, that CIDA develop beforehand a comprehensive analysis of the determinants of poverty and how Canadian international cooperation will affect poverty reduction. Otherwise, we fear, as one participant said in Ottawa hearings, these choices will continue to be served by bureaucratic, political, and Canadian economic considerations, rather than anchored in poverty analysis, and such an analysis is not present in the current version of SAE.

As I’m sure you noted as well, many participants expressed concern that CIDA’s country strategies for poverty reduction retain an independent perspective, rooted in authentic inclusive country processes for determining priorities for poverty reduction. There were repeated notes of caution that CIDA not move too quickly to harmonize its approach with World Bank/IMF PRSPs, which for many countries are still an imposed process lacking real social and political negotiations for truly owned poverty plans. While respecting the motivations for donor collaboration and harmonization of procedures for accountability, similar caution was expressed for pooled resources for SWAps.

Untying Canadian Aid. As you heard, the NGO community and many others support untying Canadian aid. You challenged participants to consider the implications of this policy, to which I responded in the Ottawa hearings. In our view, untying Canadian aid is not an end in itself. Just as one-size-fits-all policies for economic liberalization do not necessarily contribute to pro-poor economic grow, so too 100% liberalization of the aid regime may not benefit poor people. The only rationale for untying aid is its efficacy for improving the effectiveness of Canadian aid as it contributes to poverty eradication. Implementing a policy to untie aid must therefore be guided by the purposes of a particular mechanism for achieving this goal. I have attached a briefing note prepared by CCIC on background, issues and proposals for untying Canadian aid with this perspective in mind.

Clearly, these issues are not simple; and like several questions raised during the consultation, they require further in-depth analysis and refined proposals. In summary, CCIC favours extensive untying of procurement of goods and services relating to the implementation of Canadian aid, including bilateral technical assistance, but with special preference to developing country technical skills and goods procurement. We favour significant untying of the competitive bidding process for Canadian bilateral projects, affecting all those currently eligible to bid, including NGOs, with due practical consideration to dollar thresholds, accountability and timelines for these projects. We favour reviewing current tying arrangements for food aid to give priority to local/regional purchases of food commodities before accessing Canadian sources. Changes in all of these areas would promote the rooting of Canadian aid relationships within SAE’s concern for Southern ownership and capacities for poverty reduction.

But we do not believe that untying the responsive program mechanisms of Canadian Partnership Branch would further CIDA’s purposes for these mechanisms. In our view, the overarching purpose of these programs is to promote the civic expression of Canadian public commitment to development and global citizenship. These Canadian organizations direct this support through sustained partnerships with counterparts in developing countries. In responding, CIDA recognizes the intrinsic value of organizational partnerships, rooted in Canadian society, which cannot easily be reduced to short-term contractual relationships open to international bidding processes. In this regard, we note from direct discussions this week with DFID officials in their Civil Society Department, that DFID for these same reasons have determined that the policy to untie British aid 100% will not apply to DFID’s project funds and block grant partnership agreements with UK NGOs.

Public Engagement of Canadians. We noted almost unanimous concern that the SAE document lacked any substantive discussion of public engagement of Canadians and their role as global citizens. Strategies for effectively tackling global poverty requires, as one presenter in Saskatchewan noted, changing ourselves as well as the lives of people living in poverty. A strength of Canadian international development work has been the engagement of Canadians, on which we need to build. Urgent attention is required by CIDA to develop in the coming months a comprehensive operational framework, with both human and financial resources, for implementing its existing public engagement strategy. CCIC intends to contribute its own thinking on such a framework later in the Fall. We trust that CIDA will engage our community as we work together to more fully involve Canadians as volunteers, as participants in policy debates and in public education on crucial global issues, made all the more urgent by terrible events of recent weeks.

Rooting the Responsive Mechanism within SAE. Minister, you know very well the nature of CCIC’s concerns about the ways in which the current version of the SAE may constrain programming options for Canadian NGOs within the responsive mechanism of Canadian Partnership Branch. I know that you heard refrains of this message during your cross Canada tour, along with more generic concerns that the SAE seems to depend too heavily on government-to-government programming approaches, and requires a more elaborate understanding of the roles and contributions by civil actors in the South and in Canada.

I will not rehearse the arguments here. But I wanted to reassure you that our community is open to change. We have argued that these changes should be driven by approaches that have served CIDA well in its relationships with Canadian civil society – equitable partnerships, flexibility, promotion of CIDA’s overall goals and opportunities for innovation – all of which have created space for the best of NGO contributions to relevant and effective Canadian aid efforts in the past 30 years.I noted during the Ottawa hearings that the current version of SAE fails to address complex tensions between a desire for more strategic, focused priorities and an approach to aid that sustains a creative and dynamic inclusion of civil society. To be frank, the community does not yet have the one big idea to propose – we need to keep open the options for a more in-depth and systematic focus on these issues, one that we understand will be lead by Canadian Partnership Branch over the next number of months. We fear that language in the current SAE document may lock in an approach – closely aligned with country program strategies for the core countries – that will preclude any other option or approach that might arise out of the CPB process. Such an outcome would be unfortunate for both CIDA and its civil society partners.

CCIC members deeply appreciate the open and inclusive opportunities to comment on CIDA’s Strengthening Aid Effectiveness. We know you listened carefully and we trust that many of our concerns will be taken into account as your officials draft the final version for Cabinet. I am always open to discussion on any issue that may still trouble you, coming out of the hearings.

I am also very aware, having read many of the commentaries, that these are complex issues. I expect that you too recognize that these tough issues – a deeper poverty analysis to frame choices, the application of a policy to further untie Canadian aid, situating the responsive mechanism within the approaches to improve CIDA’s aid effectiveness, and implementing the public engagement strategy – may require more in-depth and specific policy dialogue with interested parties over these next months. I look forward to these opportunities and offer the collaboration of CCIC in this work.
You witnessed over the past number of weeks a deep and engaged commitment on the part of many Canadians to work together to achieve the most effective contributions from Canada for ending global poverty. I look forward to working with you and CIDA officials on making this goal a reality for both CIDA and our members.


Gerry Barr
President – CEO

cc Len Good, President of CIDA
Janet Zukowsky, Vice President, Partnership Branch, CIDA.


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