Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding

Opinion Editorials, July 2015

Share this article with your facebook friends


Al-Jazeerah History


Mission & Name  

Conflict Terminology  


Gaza Holocaust  

Gulf War  




News Photos  

Opinion Editorials

US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)




Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FFD3): Accomplishing Little When So Much Is Needed

By Curtis Doebbler

Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, July 22, 2015

This past week yet another United Nations Conference took place that was billed as a pancreas for the ills besetting international development financing that had stagnated in recent years when it was first conceived. The rich are getting richer and poor merely increased in numbers on a daily basis. The United Nations' Financing for Development Conference held in Addis Ababa from 13 to 16 July 2015 was suppose to remedy this situation. The magic pill was suppose to come in the form of the Addis Ababa Accord of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FFD3).
Expectations had been dampened long before FFD3 opened in the lush Ethiopian capital at the campus of the United Nation Economic Commission for Europe (UNECA). By the time the doors open at 10 am on Monday, 13 July the myth of panacea for the world's development problems had been exposed through months of arduous negotiations. No one was expecting the outcome document to solve any problems, but it was hoped that it might at least turn the international community in the right direction and inspire the future action that is desperately needed. Whether it did so is doubtful despite the urging of more than fifty heads of States and international organizations.
The President of the General Assembly Ugandan Mr. Sam Kutesa, one of the first speakers after Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn opened the conference, pointed out the magnitude of the problem. He noted that an estimated 66 billion US dollars per year is needed to alleviate extreme poverty (people living on less than one dollar a day or 365 US dollars per year) and between 3 and 5 trillion US dollars per year to address the gaps in providing adequate clean water, sanitation, and adequate infrastructure. Another 3 to 5 trillion US dollars is needed every year to support fragile small and medium businesses in developing countries. And to these figures needs to be added the 100 billion US dollars pledged or the estimated 1.5 trillion US dollars needed to address the adverse effects of climate change. The combined figures are massive and require a huge shift in business as usual. But like the daily afternoon showers that fell every day of the conference, it seemed to be largely development business as usual.
There was almost no money put on the table and no commitments made by developed countries to help the rest catch up. The only new financing mechanisms was the Global Financing Facility (GFF) for women's, children's and adolescent's health, which itself was a caricature of the of traditional development financing controlled by donors with only token voices from developing countries in its governance structures. True to the practice of developed country donors, the GFF donors claimed it was much larger than it really was. The World Bank, the trustee of choice for Western donors trying to keep control their money, inflating the money actually on the table by about 12 times in its press release announcing the GFF. Even according to the Bank itself, it was clear that just over a billion US dollars had been pledged—although not actually paid—and not the 12 billion US dollars claimed in the first paragraph of the press release in bold type.
How much of the 1.14 billion US dollars pledged by governments to the GFF would actually appear was unclear. Developed countries led by the European Union and the United States and their allies made sure that it would be very difficult if not impossible to find out by ensuring that an accountability mechanism was kept out of the Addis Ababa Agenda. When there is no donor accountability, one can be pretty sure that there will be double-counting or just neglect by donors to honour their pledges. Indeed, the biggest donor the GFF, the Norwegian government, had already pledged a billion US dollars for child health. The pledge was made by then Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. No one knows where the one billion US dollars went and the Norwegian government has not clearly accounted for it. And today Stoltenberg is the NATO Secretary-General tasked with pressuring countries to give more to their military than to saving children’s' lives. Not a good omen for the GFF. 
The only new mechanisms in the Addis Ababa Agenda, which was adopted by the 173 States present at FFD3, were two talk-shops. One, the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, is intended to talk about technology transfer to access. The real issues of intellectual property obstacles and the legal obligations to provide technology transfer under such treaties as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change won't be discussed in this forum. Some observers questioned why another discussion group on technology was needed when several already exist, but have accomplished very little in terms of making life saving technologies affordable to developing countries.
The second talk-shop was even more vaguely constructed. The Development Cooperation Forum or DCF is to be under the United Nations Economic and Social Council, one of the six principle organs of the United Nations with an already existing mandate to discuss development cooperation. At a roundtable held the morning after the Addis Ababa Agenda was adopted and attended by mainly developed countries, although there were several developing countries nameplates in front of empty chairs, it became clear that donors saw the DCF as business as usual. There was one caveat to this business as usual, which seemed to threaten a more equitable development model rather than promote it. This caveat was that developed countries clearly expressed their view that private rather than public finance would be the driver of development. It sounded oddly as if were a parent teacher meeting in which it was agreed that the students would be responsible for running the school. A contemporary economic wisdom indicates that the private sector can't come up with the goods. By it very nature the private sector participates as an investor when it makes a profit, development outcomes are merely at best the opportune consequences of profit-taking. Nevertheless, throughout the FFD3, developed countries chanted the mantra of the private sector as if their words would scare away the problems their their ailing economies were facing.
Developing countries for their part just went along with the charade. FFD3 showed more than any other United Nations Conference that the developing world has lost faith in the United Nations as a forum in which international action can be taken to redress centuries of inequalities. The BRICS, the African Group, the Least Developed Countries or LDCs held as many meetings in Addis Ababa among themselves, planning for their own development as they did with developed countries officials negotiating the text of an Addis Ababa Agenda that seemed to lead no where.
The thirty-nine page Addis Ababa Accord does refer to human rights eleven times explicitly and another half dozen or so times implicitly. In the first paragraph States “commit to respecting all human rights, including the right to development.” Several mentions of women's and children's rights are also scattered throughout the document. But crucial opportunities to advance the protection of human rights are missed through the absence of an accountability mechanism or even the encouragement to States to use existing human rights bodies. The gap between words and practice is amply illustrated by the fact that not one of the 168 State Parties to the almost forty year-old International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights have ever raised a case against another country despite almost all having the right to do so. 
Moreover, the Addis Ababa Agenda, which was downgraded from an 'Accord' just before FFD3 opened mentions several human rights with less rigour than do existing widely ratified human rights treaties. For example, the right to education is mentioned in paragraphs 78 and 119, but with apparent ignorance of the duty that States have to make all education—including higher education—progressively free. The right to progressively free higher education is stated unambiguously in article 13(2)(c) of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which is ratified by 164 State Parties. And although social protection is mentioned in paragraph 12, again the drafters seem to be ignorant of the fact that 164 States have undertaken a legal obligation to provide social security to their citizens in article 9 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  
The overall tenor of the FFD3 is that developed States are going to do less to foster a more equitable international order, but still want their for-profit commercial enterprises to be able to extract profits from developing countries. In other words, it will be business as usual, but instead of the State being out front private enterprise will shoulder the burden. This views was most succinctly expressed by the Italian government's launch of it new development bank, in the presence of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. A group of eight all male high powered bankers and government officials explained how the new bank would gamble the Italian taxpayers money in the hope that its investment in private enterprise would finance development assistance.
Instead of Italy meeting its decades old commitment to provide .7% of the GNP for ODA—a commitment agreed in paragraph 42 of the Monterrey Consensus, the outcome document of the first FFD in Mexico in 2002—it is betting that the private sector will invest in developing countries. One delegate from a developing country the Italian move as win-win bet for Italy and a sure-losing bet for developing countries. He was referring to the fact that Italy seemed to be saying it would use money it had been giving to assist to developing countries to instead finance its own businesses in the hope that they would contribute to development overseas. There are few Italian countries that produce development results unless they can extract an exploitative profit. Indeed, in 2012 developing countries lost almost 500 billion US dollars to profit taking by so called foreign investors. With investors like this, who needs thieves.  
The Addis Ababa Agenda nods to the control and regulation that private enterprise needs to stem its worst exploitative practices by mentioned the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights together a few other human rights agreements. The Guiding Principles, however, are not legally binding and have been widely misused by businesses as an advertising gimmick. Business use the Guiding Principles and UN Secretary-General inspired non-legally-binding Global Compact to associate the United Nations with their brands. Due to political pressure from developed counties, the Addis Ababa Accord makes no mention of the fact that the majority of States in the United Nations Human Rights Council are currently drafting a legally binding agreement with international obligations for transnational corporations and other businesses.  
Perhaps the most controversial issues were the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities or CBDR and the creation of a tax authority under the auspices of the United Nations. The former issue was resolved when it was agreed to mention CBDR explicitly in paragraph 59 in relation to climate change and to merely reaffirm all the principles of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which includes CBDR as one of its seminal principles. Whether this really solved the problem was immediately opened to question as the morning after the text's adoption a Canadian delegate claimed that CBDR had been confined to climate change. The Brazilian delegate immediately corrected him by pointing out that CBDR is one of the Rio Declaration principles.
Indeed CBDR is enshrined in a legally binding instrument that has been ratified by more states than the Charter of the United Nations: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This treaty makes explicit reference to CBDR in its article 3, paragraph 1. The Rio Declaration however mentions CBDR its broader context in its principle 7 where CBDR is elaborated with the sentence: “The developed countries acknowledge the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit of sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command.” This common understanding from almost a quarter decade ago seemed to be considered a myth among developed countries in Addis Ababa.
The last issue to be resolved on the second to last day of FFD3 was the international tax authority. The developing countries had urged that an international tax authority be established under the auspices of the United Nations. The developed countries claimed that the tax cooperation discussion happening under the auspices of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) was good enough. The fact that the OECD has been formed by 20 developed States and was still overwhelmingly a developed countries' organization where the voice of developing countries was negligible seemed to be overlooked by developed countries.  
Nevertheless, to prove how much their institutions were doing on tax developed countries ordered not only the OECD, but also the World Bank in which they control almost all the voting rights, to be seen as doing more on taxes. They had little choice to do so as they were telling developing countries at FFD3 that they should finance their development by collecting taxes. Exactly how taxing people who earn less than one or even ten dollars a day would help finance these same peoples' development was not entirely clear. It seemed even more hypocritical coming from diplomats from developed countries who were sometime earning in a few days the annual wage of their developed country colleagues.
Nevertheless, the developed countries blocked the creation of a United Nations tax authority, even though by the time the negotiation had reached Addis Ababa this new entity would have only been another talk-shop.  Instead the Addis Ababa Agenda mentions a variety of matters related to better collecting taxes while committing “to scaling up international tax cooperation” in paragraph 27 through some mysterious confluence of various existing discussion forums.  
A reference to taxing tobacco to pay for its impact on human health in paragraph 32 of the drew some concern from Malawi as it is the single domestic resource most crucial to the country's development strategies.
After the Addis Ababa Agenda had been adopted, the United States made an arrogant closing statement objecting to the very right to development. The right to development had been proclaimed not only in the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development, but also in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights. The United States was the only State to vote against the 1986 Declaration when it was adopted by the General Assembly, but was part of the consensus of 171 States that adopted the 1993 Vienna Declaration. As if to add insult injury, the United States also reiterated that it agreed to go along with the consensus on the Addis Ababa Agenda “with the understanding that the document does not create obligations under international law.” While this is correct in law, it does not address the fact that the Addis Ababa Agenda does reiterate obligations that already exist for most States in treaties they have ratified or under customary international law.
Given the lack of any ambitious action and it being hard to see any action at all being inspired by the FFD3 outcome, it was not surprising that the EU and other developed countries hailed the Addis Ababa Agenda as a “resounding success.” The fort had held protecting the benefits that developed countries had acquired by centuries of exploitation of developing countries that is still ongoing.  One could almost understand the EU and United States empathy with the military dictators in Egypt that had come to power by a deadly military coup and continued to rule with iron fists to suppress dissent. In both cases, entrenched interests were at stake and the well-being of the overwhelming majority of people is no consequence to those seeking to maintain their privileges.
At the same time that FFD3 was held a civil society forum or CSOFfD was held in Addis Ababa. This forum bought together an eclectic group of civil society actors ranging from village representative indigenous people seeking to protect their human rights to for-profit organizations seeking to line their pockets. While there was much in the Addis Ababa Agenda for the latter, the former had to settle for two days of free meals and list of unfulfilled hopes. 
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon addressed the civil society gather saying he was “inspired by the commitment and competence” shown by the young civil society activists. These words seem a far cry from his actions. While the Secretary-General was speaking a disabled civil society activist was trying to hobble up two flights of stairs to hear him speak, blocked by the Secretary-General himself and his entourage who had commandeered all the elevators at the Desalegn Hotel for their own use.
At the FFD3 it appeared like an extra effort was being made to exclude civil society. First, United Nations Security Chief at the UNECA took pre-empting steps to block civil society from attending the meeting claiming that another 500 people who cause crowding problems in UN campus that could have handled another 10,000 visitors. The first day he demanded that only the seemingly arbitrary number of 67 members of civil society be allowed onto the UN ground. Only after complaints were made to the United Nations was this decision reversed, with the help of the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry that realized that restricting civil society even further than their common practice would bring bad publicity.  
In the end, perhaps due to the chilling effect of the United Nations Security, head of States and senior political leaders often delivered their speeches to half empty halls. At one point an Ethiopian official came to tell delegates and civil society actors watching the proceedings in a quizzically named 'overflow room' that there would be no broadcast and that everyone should come to the main hall because there was almost no one there. As is likely to dawn on those who adopted the Addis Ababa Agenda, if the decision makers don't have the courage to act with integrity of purpose it is likely the rest of us will just ignore them.     

Curtis Doebbler Visiting Professor of Law, Webster University, Geneva.


Share this article with your facebook friends




Opinions expressed in various sections are the sole responsibility of their authors and they may not represent Al-Jazeerah & &