18 February 2015

In the balance: why 0.7% needs to pass

The UK has done amazingly well in increasing its aid (ODA) spending to 0.7% of gross national income (GNI). In doing so it has fulfilled a 40 year promise and become the first G7 country to do so.

This was a commitment that all 3 main parties (back then, Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems-now who knows?) made before the 2010 election.

But we have seen what can happen to manifesto pledges, and in the context of debt reduction and the rise of the nationalist UK Independence Party (UKIP) it must have been tempting to cut the aid budget.  But to their immense credit the government did not make the cuts  and the target was met in April 2014.  And back in September 2014 MPs in the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly to pass the 0.7 Bill.

The legislation is currently with the UK parliament's second chamber, the House of Lords.  It passed the committee state on February 6 and is now going through report stage for further scrutiny on February 27.

This is the good news.  The bad news is that time is running out.  Government is rapidly shutting down for new business ahead of the May General Election.  And this election is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable in living memory.  Seven-party elections don't happen very often in the UK. If this window of opportunity for the Bill is missed we may have to wait quite some time--years--for it to open again.

So I would urge the membership of the House of Lords, the peers, to pass this Bill.  Passing it will signal a long term commitment to stability in UK aid flows.  Admittedly the passing of the Bill will introduce a variability in aid that mirrors variations in GNI, but it will remove the much more unpredictable and jarring political uncertainties in aid flows.

This long term commitment is vital to grow and seize "high hanging fruits" (yes them) in development such as institutional transformation, governance evolutions, building more democratic institutions and the strengthening of capacity for negotiation in the international arena.

I fully expect ODA to be replaced, for most aid recipients, by domestic resource mobilisation --public and private--over the next 15 years, but ODA is key to that transition being a smooth one.  A smooth transition will not be disruptive of development because it will focus on the higher hanging fruits noted above such as building tax collection/allocation capacity and governance, establishing regulatory environments that guide capitalism towards broad-based development and the building of social welfare states that address floor requirements for all.

Strategic allocations of ODA will be more--not less--important in the SDG era.  And as any strategist knows s/he will have enough uncertainty to negotiate without the self-inflicted political kind that legislation can temper.

Peers, pass the Bill.

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