I don't know about you, but I am a bit tired from climbing all those mountains. One summit after the other appear in the development landscape. You can hardly take a breath or the other summit rises up in front of you. Even political leaders seem to get tired of attending summits, given the low priority G7 leaders gave to the World Humanitarian Summit last week. What is the function of a summit? How does it help the development discourse and much more important: how does it help the poor?
In the past year we witnessed a number of summits, which I also paid attention to at this website. I even attended one in Addis Ababa where quite crucially Finance for Development was discussed. However, whose agenda was driving this forum in the direction or private sector engagement, domestic resource mobilisation and improving the tax base? Private companies may be part of the solution, but certainly will not pay for the solution. Neither do western governments to a large extend. Commitments are easily made at summits. However, how much has been delivered on promises made in the past.
Untie aid from the state
New political realities are taking over and force politicians to take account of the eroding support base for international solidarity. Many governments failed to provide solutions at home for the disadvantaged and the labour class (look at the protests in France). Is it strange that ordinary people do not trust their governments in providing solutions elsewhere while making their citizens pay for it? It caused the debate to shift towards "How will it benefit us?". When I started to work in this sector tight-aid was a curse. We despised USAID for making aid agencies order all equipment from the USA. Gradually I saw this mentality adopted by European development actors. It took us a year to process a derogation request to purchase a Toyota instead of the European make Mercedes for an EU supported project. It went much beyond equipment and the whole rationale for providing aid has shifted from international solidarity to addressing root causes for migration. I can still get my project paid for by international donors. However, it will be framed as a measure that will prevent people from migrating to Europe.
Likewise climate change may equally be framed as opportunity for innovation as it provides livelihood challenges for already vulnerable communities. It is high time to not deliver on climate goals for the sake of our own future but to show solidarity with those affected by it (including with citizens of France and Germany). There cannot be an end to solidarity as also greek citizens displayed in a documentary I saw last week. Despite the enormous economic challenges their country faces, the support for stranded refugees by citizens remains in place and is even gaining ground. Or could we say thanks to the economic melt-down in Greece the solidarity of the average Greek citizen grew stronger than ever?
Facilitate citizen solidarity
Do we expect too much from the State when it comes to international development aid? Rather than paying taxes for the government to show solidarity I prefer getting tax exemption for whatever I donate to an organization of my choice, less susceptible to political pressure. The citizen-2-citizen connection cannot be overemphasized in importance. Hence, rather than influencing my government to make commitments I would like the government to encourage citizens to make personal commitments beyond the current tax exemption provision. A fairly easy way to do so would be to reduce tax with a certain percentage and require citizens to donate a specific percentage of their income to registered aid agencies. Government budget could than be limited to the protection of global public goods and safety and security. It would activate citizens to take serious notice of what agencies are doing and would increase the need for transparency and accountability on results achieved. This could set an important precedent in domestic resource mobilization and avoid a lot of summits currently needed to get governments to commit resources.
Green believers and practitioners
Summits could than be organized at citizens level. Political parties could call on their members to take action rather than members requiring their politicians to take action. A nice example of such a mobilization is an initiative by ChristenUnie, a small Christian political party organizing a day of inspiration for their own constituency under the title "Green Believers". It will give a personal twist to what many may have considered as a public duty. Investing in a green lifestyle with due consideration of humanities' task to be good stewards of this planet. Though this may be a Christian notion, in many ways humanists have preceded Christians in actually doing so. The practice-what-you-preach mantra may also sound clearly today and hopefully will also help personal transformation.
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
Click here for a summary.
Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.