By Ricardo Goulão Santos

Having Timor-Leste as the setting of my PhD research has brought me into the centre stage of a different kind of voice, rising in the “Development World”. Different from the group of rising stars, the new emerging economies of the BRICS, Indonesia, Australia,… whose role as donors is the object of the study by IDS’s Rising Power in Development Programme, this would more likely be defined as “the basketcase group”. Their slogan seemed to be “the countries that won’t reach a single of the Millennium Development Goals”. They were deemed, at one point, to be “failed states”. A slightly more benevolent label was that of “fragile countries”. In a previous blog post, I discussed the fluidity of these labels, when looking at Timor. However, some of these countries created an unlikely group, one that accepted the fragilities of its members but dared to claim such condition as what demands that they, and not the donors, are in the driving seat of the global effort to face their challenges. Probably inspired by the G77 group of developing countries, the G7+ was born not long ago, in April 2010. Its main goal is “to stop conflict, build nations and eradicate poverty through innovative development strategies, harmonized to the country context, aligned to the national agenda and led by the State and its People.[1] In slightly more than a year, they had their manifesto, the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, approved in the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness hosted in Busan, and promptly applauded as one of the successes of the gathering, as reported by Mawdsley, Savage and Kim (2013:6). However, even gaining the honour of having their chair, the Timorese Minister of Finance Maria Emilia Pires, as a member of the High-Level Panel of eminent persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (High Panel), the G7+ seem to have been left under the radar already. When they gathered to produce the Dili Consensus, as part of the consultation process towards the Post-2015 Development Goals[2], the interest of the international community seemed to have faded somewhat. Nonetheless, the process did not stop and the pilot Fragility Assessments of Timor-Leste, South Sudan and Sierra Leone are producing the first reports.

As part of my PhD research, when analysing the political economy of Timor-Leste I’m called to look deeply into the Timorese engagement with the New Deal, especially as it now has a central role in the development partnerships the Government negotiates. In future blog posts I’ll seek to share more about the programme and the Timorese leading case study of its implementation.

In this one I’d like to briefly explore the principles originated in the New Deal. In their document, the G7+ countries determined the need to seek a set of 5 Peace-Building and State-Building Goals (PSG), following a process (coined by the acronym FOCUS) and requiring from the donor community a commitment towards a set of principles framed by another suggestive acronym, TRUST. The first two establish a strategy of development.

Each PSG is a dimension each G7+ country needs to reinforce in order to reach what they perceive to be their path to development:

  • PSG1: Legitimate Politics, encompassing an inclusive political settlement and conflict resolution;
  • PSG2: Security, encompassing the establishment and strengthening of people’s security;
  • PSG3: Justice, encompassing the reduction of situations of injustice and facilitating the access to justice;
  • PSG4: Economic Foundation, encompassing the capacity to generate employment and promote livelihoods;
  • PSG5: Revenue and Services, encompassing the State’s capacity to manage its revenue sources and to an deliver an accountable and fair public service.

Some of these principles may have resonated in the High Panel report. Concerns regarding the access to basic human rights, such as the access to justice or the promotion of livelihoods (that can be perceived in the commitment to end extreme poverty), the transformation of economies towards employment generation or regarding an accountable and fair service delivery seem to be clear commonalities. The concerns with conflict resolution and people’s security seem also to be present in both sets of guidelines. The concern with a sustainable development, keystone of the High Panel report, was already transparent in the Dili Consensus. This seems to indicate that the voices of the G7+ might have been heard by the High Panel and urges us to look with care to their implementation.

The process chosen to guide such implementation is delineated by the acronym FOCUS:

F       Fragility Assessment, as the main policy evaluation instrument;
O      One vision, one plan guiding the policies put into place by each ministry, in contrast with the current multitude of (competing) priorities proposed by the diverse thematic, bilateral and multilateral aid agencies and international NGOs ;
C       Compact, as the instrument of harmonization among stakeholders (political society, civil society and aid actors);
U      Use of PSGs to monitor, reinforcing these principles as the framework for g7+ country’s development;
S       Support Political Dialogue, as the key to a politically inclusive process.

This process already establishes a joint commitment by both national governments and other national actors (starting with the political parties in opposition) towards dialogue and the prosecution of the PSGs, but also a commitment by international aid actors towards an harmonized support to these efforts.

The urge for harmonization becomes even clearer in second set of commitments inscribed under the suggestive acronym TRUST:

T       Transparency, a commitment towards a transparent reporting of aid and its implementation;
R       Risk-Sharing, the assumption that a commitment by the international community in fostering the development of “fragile states”, even if risky, is a better option than non-commitment;
U      Use and strengthen country systems, as the key to sustain the development efforts and aid effectiveness;
S       Strengthen capacities, both of the State and Civil Society in a balanced way, namely through jointly administered pooled facilities, South-South and fragile-fragile cooperation;
T       Timely and Predictable aid, a remnant of the Accra Agenda for action, repeated in each document that echoes developing countries’ voices and, sadly, also repeatedly forgot by donor countries.

These required commitments trace a significant set of obligations to be followed by donors themselves, much in the spirit of some of the commitments of the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action, and against which, time and again donors have failed to comply. The need for timely and predictable aid clearly flags one of the key failures in performance by donor countries, that despite precious admonitions regarding “developing countries” weaknesses, seem to continue oblivious to their own inconsistency, volubility in aid policies and lack of compliance towards committed financial support to recipient countries.

They also open a space for South-South cooperation, suggesting the possibility of a convergence with the Rising Powers. They go further, however. In a radical depart from the donor-recipient logic of aid, they propose and have put into place, in annual forums, a space for fragile-fragile cooperation. In this last possibility may lie the main innovative strength of the G7+ proposal. From the shared experience of weakness and challenges, more than from the success stories of those that never faced equal troubles, new ways and solutions may occur. If “necessity is the mother of invention”, opening and promoting the sharing of experiences may enable such opportunity of innovation to occur.

These sets of goals, processes and principles are being now piloted and tested. The Fragility Assessment of Timor-Leste of which we already have the first instalment and from which we can already analyse its report serves as an opportunity to look into the practice of these guidelines.

But that will the theme of another blog post.

Ricardo Goulão Santos is a PhD candidate working on education and employability in a post-conflict setting within the IDS Conflict, Violence and Development of the Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction research team. He is also a visiting researcher at the National University of Timor Lorosa’e (UNTL).

[1] An introduction to de G7+ can be found here.

[2] A reflection I shared on this gathering can also be found in Povertics blog.