Text of lecture at a workshop at the Kotelawala Defence University – January 20th 2013

In this session, with the presence also of Non-Governmental Organizations to assist with our discussions, I thought of suggesting some principles which we should enforce with regard to aid and assistance. This should be done following consultation of the NGOs which work here.

The suggestions are based on the assumption that the impact of Aid projects, like every other initiative, must be measurable, the process of decision making must involve consultation of beneficiaries and local communities as relevant, and there should be accountability to these latter as well as to concerned government agencies. It is also essential to note that Aid projects should be cost effective. This might seem obvious, but it is rarely a criterion on which projects are assessed.

All this is in accordance with the Accra Declaration, which fleshed out the Principles formulated in Paris. To cite some vital elements in the Declaration –

  • We will reduce costly fragmentation of aid

17. The effectiveness of aid is reduced when there are too many duplicating initiatives, especially at country and sector levels. We will reduce the fragmentation of aid by improving the complementarity of donors’ efforts and the division of labour among donors, including through improved allocation of resources within sectors, within countries, and across countries.

  • We will increase aid’s value for money

18. ….

c) Donors will promote the use of local and regional procurement by ensuring that their procurement procedures are transparent and allow local and regional firms to compete.

  • We will be more accountable and transparent to our public for results

24. Transparency and accountability are essential elements for development results. They lie at the heart of the Paris Declaration, in which we agreed that countries and donors would become more accountable to each other and to their citizens. We will pursue these efforts by taking the following actions:

a) We will make aid more transparent. Developing countries will facilitate parliamentary oversight by implementing greater transparency in public financial management, including public disclosure of revenues, budgets, expenditures, procurement and audits. Donors will publicly disclose regular, detailed and timely information on volume, allocation and, when available, results of development expenditure to enable more accurate budget, accounting and audit by developing countries.

b) We will step up our efforts to ensure that – as agreed in the Paris Declaration – mutual assessment reviews are in place by 2010 in all countries that have endorsed the Declaration. These reviews will be based on country results reporting and information systems complemented with available donor data and credible independent evidence.
They will draw on emerging good practice with stronger parliamentary scrutiny and citizen engagement. With them we will hold each other accountable for mutually agreed results in keeping with country development and aid policies….

d) Effective and efficient use of development financing requires both donors and partner countries to do their utmost to fight corruption. Donors and developing countries will respect the principles to which they have agreed, including those under the UN Convention against Corruption. Developing countries will address corruption by improving systems of investigation, legal redress, accountability and transparency in the use of public funds. Donors will take steps in their own countries to combat corruption by individuals or corporations and to track, freeze, and recover illegally acquired assets.

One important measure to increase accountability and the capacity to measure results is to confine each agency to a limited area. When I became Secretary of the Ministry, I found that there was chaos in what was termed the CHAP, or Common Humanitarian Action Plan. Several agencies claimed to be in engaging in support all over the Northern Province, in very few of the project proposals were there specifics or measurable outcomes. Reporting was sporadic, and it turned out that OCHA had no idea of what had been achieved in any given area.

The plan had been in essence formulated by OCHA and we were expected to rubber stamp it. I refused to do this, and since they could not argue about the lack of data, in principle my demand that government be involved in planning was accepted. I should add that Zola Dowell, the Head of OCHA who came to Sri Lanka shortly after I had entered public life, was a much more positive person than her predecessor, who seemed to me to have been prejudiced against the government. I had had to demand balance in his reports, which the international head of OCHA, Sir John Holmes, had endorsed, though I was surprised that the Foreign Ministry had not dealt with this earlier.

With regard to the CHAP, I had been appointed to the position of Ministery Secretary only in June 2008, another classic example of the President’s orders being stymied through inaction that seems endemic to the system but is often the result of deliberate decisions aiming at short term goals and not the long term benefit of the country.

I came in late therefore to the process, and was told that the final draft was being prepared in Vavuniya by what was termed the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC). This consisted mainly of NGO representatives, with a few UN staff members, and they worked only with local officials – who were easily persuaded to agree to whatever the NGOs prescribed. When I pointed out that this was unacceptable, I was grudgingly told that I could be present along with someone from the Foreign Ministry. I managed at short notice however to persuade a few other involved Ministries also to send representatives.

I was unable to go myself, but was able to send a member of my Peace Secretariat staff who had worked in the United Nations and understood the principles that should be applied, but which Sri Lanka was evidently ignorant of. Typically, he was one reason the Secretariat was closed down, because other staff members who were jealous of his abilities complained that I was paying him vast amounts. In fact he only got what other Directors received, and that was to cover the cost of his airfare from Geneva where he had settled down after retirement. He contributed enormously to a report on NGOs that the President had asked me to do, but that report was, typically, lost in the Secretariat, and when problems cropped up again later, the President told me he had never seen it.

OCHA assured me that the decisions at Vavuniya were subject to Ministry approval, but of course they gave us hardly any time to consider them. I insisted however on delay, and had a meeting of all involved government agencies, at which I realized the depths of irritation about what had been going on. The Treasury told me they had never been consulted, and usually mild mannered public servants such as the Secretary to the Ministry of Resettlement also made clear their resentment of what seemed a hijacking of governmental responsibilities. I realized too that there was some anger with regard to our Ministry, which was seen as the agent of OCHA and the Non-Governmental Organizations. This was understandable since the level of consultation I had initiated had not existed previously.

I also checked on the usual UN processes, and found that the IASC had been constituted irregularly. Again, it is shocking that the Foreign Ministry had not stopped this earlier, since instead of just one international and one national NGO representative, it was dominated by foreigners, the more vociferous of whom disliked the government. Zola tried to claim that it was a statutory UN body, but I was able to show her that the UN gave it only a limited role, and some suggestions that had been made later to expand its role had not been endorsed. I should note that, soon after I had explained the position to her, the IASC was wound up. It has however been replaced by other consultative processes which are dubious, but since our Foreign Ministry evidently does not care about process and ensuring the interests of this country, there is nothing to be done.

Given the short time frame granted and the pressures on the Minister to approve the CHAP soon, we could do little then in 2008 about the 2009 CHAP, though it was granted that there would be greater accountability to the relevant Ministries. What we should have done, though, to divide things up so that different agencies concentrated on particular areas, so they could be held responsible for those, did not prove possible.

That did not happen the next year either, by when our Ministry was no longer responsible for coordination, with that being taken over by the Presidential Task Force. Its Secretary, Mr Divaratne, is one of the most efficient public servants I know, and he and I agreed on the general principles that should be followed, but he did not have sufficient staff of his calbre to enforce his ideas, and many things continued as before by default.

The NGOs argued against being confined to particular areas, on the grounds that their ability to raise funds would be affected if they could not claim to be working in the entire North. This brought home to me how Aid has indeed become a business, with agencies bidding against each other for funds. I still recall Basil Rajapaksa, when he was in charge of Reconstruction but before he became a Minister, noting how several agencies took credit for the same funds, since the countries that donated these to the UN, and the UN that divided these up amongst various international agencies, and those agencies that distributed these to sub-agencies, and those sub-agencies, all made much of what they were giving, when in fact there had been only a single donation. But again, I think we are at fault in not having played this game ourselves, by recording clearly the input of government, which exceeds that of these various institutions.

A second anecdote, before I finish this session and throw things open for discussion, relates to my last few months at the Ministry. There was some diffidence about allowing agencies to work in the North, but it seemed absurd to stop this when the needs were so great. I did not think it would be difficult to prevent any abuses, and Mr Divaratne agreed that, provided there were specific projects, he would be happy to approve. We insisted then on measurable targets, and I recommended just over 20, to which he agreed. But we then found that some of those agencies were selling themselves to Western embassies by claiming that they had general permission to work in the North, and should therefore be asked to implement any projects that were planned.

I will stop here then to ask you to think for a few moments about procedures we should put in place to help us fulfil the aims of the Accra Declaration.

  1. The Structure of Government, Cooperation of Government Machinery and the Role of NGOs – 1
  2. The Structure of Government, Cooperation of Government Machinery and the Role of NGOs – 2
  3. The Structure of Government, Cooperation of Government Machinery and the Role of NGOs – 3
  4. The Structure of Government, Cooperation of Government Machinery and the Role of NGOs – 4
  5. The Structure of Government, Cooperation of Government Machinery and the Role of NGOs – 5
  6. The Structure of Government, Cooperation of Government Machinery and the Role of NGOs – 6