One of my commenters on a previous post noted that it is easy to go into detail and nuance when I have my own blog with posts as long as I want them compared to the limit of 750 words for an Op Ed. Which seemed like a good challenge to me — can I take the 7500 words I wrote on “What is development?” and crunch it down into something semi-nuanced while staying closer to an OpEd’s word limit? Let’s see.
When I read the various Op Eds about whether the merger of CIDA and DFAIT will skew “development”, I am constantly shocked by how “general” the conversation is, often talking about one aspect of development while ignoring four others. For those worried that the merger will suddenly mean Canada is no longer doing “development”, don’t be. Canadian projects will still have to fall within the OECD’s definitions of development in order to qualify as “official development assistance” (ODA). DFAIT isn’t suddenly going to start paying for embassies with the International Assistance Envelope and calling it development. Development requires five tests to be met.
1. Money has to flow. It can’t be in-kind contributions or cutting tariffs as part of a new trade deal, it has to be an actual flow of resources. No flow, no aid.
2. Only government money counts. The private sector or the public can do aid too, of course, it just doesn’t count toward ODA. Lots of countries want to count the other organizations too, reflecting a different view of the role of government and the people, but only government assistance counts.
3. A developing country has to be the recipient. This means we can’t suddenly do “aid” in the U.S. or France. However, considering there are 148 countries on the OECD’s list of eligible recipients, including some high-income developing countries, this may give some pause. On the other hand, India, China and Brazil have disparity issues with huge populations living below the poverty line that would dwarf the combined population of the lowest 48 on the list. In other words, you can still do aid in those countries and focus on those who need it most, yet still be doing “development”.
4. Benefit of developing countries. This is the big element in CIDA’s favour as you can’t suddenly just do things in Canada’s interest and call them aid. So the OECD has a list of activities that count (health, education, etc.) and a list of those that don’t (military spending, peacekeeping, anti-terrorism). While you may see Canada do some upstream activities like PSD or trade-related technical assistance rather than “basic human needs” type programming, most of the rhetoric focuses on the potential for skewing priorities away from the most vulnerable — like those receiving humanitarian assistance. But DFAIT has always been on-board for humanitarian assistance, so no reason to expect that to change.
5. Grant / concessionality. Since most donors don’t do “loans” anymore, this is almost irrelevant because all the Gs&Cs are “grant/concessional” (i.e. the test is if more than 25% of the project is concessional, while in fact CIDA projects are 100% concessional).
So when pundits say that “pure development” will be compromised, I think they’re dancing on the head of a rhetorical pin. While they want to suggest that the money won’t be for development anymore, projects still have to fit the OECD definition of development (however wobbly that definition is). For Canadian aid, of the five elements, 1 (flow), 2 (government money) and 5 (grant) won’t change. The only possibility for change is on 3 (which countries) or 4 (types of projects). It’ll still go to developing countries, it’ll still be development projects.
But if we’re going to have the conversation about how part 3 or 4 will be compromised, can we at least dig down a little deeper? Because there is a lot better debate if one is talking about in which eligible countries that the aid will reach the most in need or talking about how one development project is better/more effective than another, rather than just using ill-defined rhetoric to say CIDA’s way is development and DFAIT’s suggestions are not.
Okay, so I missed a lot of my content. But at just under 600 words, it’s not a bad summary of what I was trying to say. Thanks for the challenge.