The Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC) sponsored a regional forum on 13-14 December 2011 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The purpose of this forum was to consider the implications of Post High Level Forum 4 in Busan, Korea (29 November to 1 December 2011) on civil society organizations in Southeast Asia. The basic rationale for the forum was based on the premise that civil society organizations (CSOs) are an essential component of a healthy, progressive society. According to the concept statement, weak accountability is one of the biggest political challenges facing CSOs, thus collective and serious ownership of accountability principles, and self-regulation are critical tools to augment its legitimacy and effective role as third development actors within their own rights.
The focus of this forum was on Article 22 of the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation, which provided:
Civil society organizations (CSOs) play a vital role in enabling people to claim their rights, in promoting rights-based approaches, in shaping development policies and partnerships, and in overseeing their implementation. They also provide services in areas that are complementary to those provided by the states. Recognizing this, we will:
a) Implement fully our respective commitments to enable CSOs to exercise their roles as independent development actors, with a particular focus on an enabling environment, consistent with agreed international rights, that maximises the contributions of CSOs to development.
b) Encourage CSOs to implement practices that strengthen their accountability and their contribution to development effectiveness, guided by the Istanbul Principles and the International Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness.First, a little history and context. The process that lead to the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, or Busan HLF-4, began, at least theoretically, with the Rome Declaration on Harmonisation HLF-1 in 2003. This First High Level Forum in Rome, "marked the first occasion at which principles for aid effectiveness were outlined in a concrete declaration" according to the history reported by the UN Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
International development cooperation surged in the early 1960s in the midst of post-war optimism and enthusiasm. However, success was lacking in aid effectiveness. A formulation of principles for effective aid was developed and grew out of the need to understand why aid was not producing the development results everyone expected and wanted to see. The Rome Declaration produced by this High Level Forum 1 in Rome set forth a series of concrete priority action items:
- That development assistance be delivered based on priorities and timing of the countries receiving it.
- That donor efforts concentrate on delegating cooperation and increasing flexibility of staff on country programs and projects.
- That good practices be encouraged and monitored, backed by analytic work to help strengthen the leadership that recipient countries can take in determining their development path.
Article I, Statement of Resolve, Paris Declaration on Air Effectiveness, provided in pertinent part, as follows:
We, Ministers of developed and developing countries, responsible for promoting development and Heads of multilateral and bilateral development institutions, meeting in Paris on 2 March 2005, resolve to take far-reaching and monitorable actions to reform the ways we deliver and manage aid as we look ahead to the UN five-year review of the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) later this year. As in Monterrey, we recognise that while the volumes of aid and other development resources must increase to achieve these goals, and aid effectiveness must increase significantly as well to support partner country efforts to strengthen governance and improve development performance. This will be all the more important if existing and new bilateral and multilateral initiatives lead to significant further increases in aid.The Statement of Resolve further stated that the participants to this Declaration accepted the reforms suggested in the Declaration would require continued high-level political support, peer pressure, and coordinated actions at the global, regional, and country levels. The "ownership" of this effort was largely limited to partnership countries, although "Ownership" article did identify "donors" as stakeholders without defining who or what these donors were.
Appendix B, of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, listed 91 countries and participating countries, 26 development banks from different countries and international organizations and funds, and 14 civil society organizations. Again, there is little in the text of the document which would specifically address the role of civil society organizations, and what was expected of them.
Nevertheless, the Paris Declaration outlined five fundamental principles for making aid more effective:
In September 2008, a Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, was held in Accra, Ghana, resulting in the Accra Agenda for Action (AAA). Here, developed and developing countries agreed to take bold steps to reform the way aid is given and spent. Developing countries committed to take control of their own futures, donors to better coordinate amongst themselves, and both parties to the Agenda pledged to to account to each other and their citizens. According to the report from OECD on Accra High Level Forum 3, and the AAA, developing and donor countries, emerging economies, UN and multilateral institutions, global funds, and civil society organizations participated in the discussions leading to the Third High Level Forum for Aid Effectiveness in Accra. The forum participants used as a baseline, the development goals set out in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. What is interesting is that the list of donors were almost all donor countries, with only a few development banks and major funds.
- Ownership: Developing countries set their own strategies for poverty reduction, improve their institutions and tackle corruption.
- Alignment: Donor Countries align behind these objectives and use local systems.
- Harmonisation: Donor countries coordinate, simplify procedures and share information to avoid duplication.
- Results: Developing countries and donors shift focus to development results and results get measured.
- Mutual accountability: Donors and partners are accountable for development results.
Prior to the Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra, a coalition of more than 380 CSOs from 80 countries submitted to the Third High Level Forum in Accra, a CSO critique and list of concerns about the Paris Declaration, and put foward 16 recommendations. One of the criticisms of the Paris Declaration was that it was limited largely to aid delivery and was created without the involvement of CSOs. Therefore, Better Aid, a civil society advocacy platform convened more than 800 CSOs in Accra who called on attending governments for an equal development partnership and substantive changes to the Paris Declaration. The conclusion was that the AAA captured some of the promises made by governments to make official development assistance more effective. But, that while it reflected some progress towards meeting the goals advocated by the CSOs and addressed some of the limitations of the Paris Declaration, it faced its own obstacles to success, primarily due to the lack of time-bound commitments and indicators to monitor progress. Nevertheless, there was some recognition at the High Level Forum 3 in Accra that CSOs were "independent development actors in their own right."
Two groups running parallel to the High Level Forum process are Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness and BetterAid, both active in mobilizing CSOs in Accra and Busan. Open Forum is an initiative which was conceived and is led by a diverse coalition of CSOs around the world. Its process is unique in its effort to create a global consensus on principles to which it holds itself accountable. In order to accomplish its mandate, Open Forum conducts consultations with a wide range of CSO representatives around the world, as well as with non-CSO stakeholders, in over 70 countries. Its initiative takes place amidst the on-going international aid effectiveness processes, but it is not a parallel process.
BetterAid is an open platform which unites over 700 development organizations from civil society and leads many of the civil society activities, including many in-country consultations, studies and monitoring leading up to the Fourth High Level Forum 4 in Busan Korea. It does this by drafting position papers and monitoring effectiveness agreements, such as the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action. BetterAid's critique of the Accra Agenda for Action was in part instrumental in increasing the role of CSOs in the in Aid Effectiveness consultations and I believe led to some of the changes that occurred in High Level Forum 4 in Busan.
Open Forum has also been instrumental in advancing the agenda of civil society, both by its participation in the Accra and Busan fora, but also by its own initiatives in convening the First Global Assembly in Istanbul, Turkey, in September 2010, and the Second Global Assembly in Siem Reap, Cambodia in June 2011 hosted and facilitated by the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC). More than 170 CSO representatives from 82 countries gathered in Istanbul to consider and unanimously agree to adopt the Istanbul Principles for CSO Development Effectiveness. The preamble to the Istanbul CSO Development Principles stated:
Civil society organizations are a vibrant and essential feature in the democratic life of countries across the globe. CSOs collaborate with the full diversity of people and promote their rights. The essential characteristics of CSO as distinct development actors -- that they are voluntary, diverse, non-partisan, autonomous, non-violent, working and collaborating for change -- are the foundation for the Istanbul principles for CSO development effectiveness. These principles guide the work and practices of civil society organizations in both peaceful and conflict situation, in different areas of work from grassroots to policy advocacy, and in a continuum from humanitarian emergencies to long-term development.The first four principles address largely political and democratic oriented matters, such as promoting human rights and justice, gender equality and equity, people empowerment, democratic ownership and participation, and promoting environmental sustainability. It is not until the last four principles that the Istanbul Principles address how CSOs are to conduct themselves, that is, with demonstrated commitment to transparency, multiple accountability, and integrity in their internal operations, commitment to transparent relationships with CSOs and other development actors thereby promoting partnerships and solidarity, and creating and sharing knowledge in which mutual learning can occur and in which vision for innovation and the future can be strengthened.
The Second Global Assembly in Siem Reap resulted in the Siem Reap CSO Consensus on the International Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness. It expressed in its Introduction, "a commitment to strengthen civil society development effectiveness" while recognizing that:
Millions of civil society organizations (CSOs) worldwide contribute in unique and essential ways to development as innovative agents of change and social transformation. These contributions are long-standing: CSOs support grassroots experiences of people engaged in their own development efforts; are both donors and practitioners of development; promote development knowledge and innovations; work to deepen global awareness and solidarity among people across national boundaries; and they advocate and seek out inclusive policy dialogue with governments and donors to work together for development progress.The Siem Reap Consensus, fleshed out some of the implications of the Istanbul Principles and provided specific guidance on how those principles were to be satisfied. Of particular interest to me were the discussions and guidance provided with respect to three of the Istanbul Principles relating to transparency and accountability, the pursuit of partnerships and solidarity, and the creation and sharing of knowledge for capacity building of CSOs. Section III of the Siem Reap Consensus addressed in rather specific terms how the mechanisms for CSO accountability were to be strengthened. Specifically, since CSO mandates are the basis for their responsibility to be fully accountable,
All development actors share a responsibility to demonstrate the results of their interventions and actions, in particular with their primary and most-affected constituencies. CSOs acknowledge and take seriously this obligation, which is set out in the fifth Istanbul Principle -- to be fully accountable and transparent for their development actions and results. As civil society organizations, accountability is shaped by various distinctive organizational mandates, embedded in their work as agents of change for the public good, with people in their communities, and with the public constituencies that support their work. This responsibility is put into practice through the implementation of various CSO accountability mechanisms, responding to different organizational and country contexts.The guidance set forth in the Siem Reap Consensus with respect to Istanbul Principle No. 5, provided:
Transparency, mutual and multiple accountabilities and internal democratic practices reinforce CSO values of social justice and equality. Transparency and accountability create public trust, while enhancing CSO credibility and legitimacy. Democratizing information, increasing and improving its flow among all stakeholders, including political actors, strengthens both civil society and democratic culture. Transparency is an essential precondition for CSO accountability.
Accountability is not limited to financial reporting, but should strengthen both institutional integrity and mutual public reckoning among development actors, particularly focusing on accountability with affected populations. Community-based CSOs often have particular advantages in implementing local grassroots-accountability processes. Progress in transparency and accountability, however, may sometimes be affected and limited by challenges CSOs face living under highly repressive regimes and laws in armed conflict situations.So, now three years after Accra, with this background of the work of BetterAid and Open Forum, the High Level Forum 4 convened in Busan, Korea. For the first time in the history of OECD High Level Forum events, the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan included CSOs as official participants, recognizing them as equal and important development actors in their own right.
There were four civil society visions for Busan:
- The first was that there should be a full evaluation of the Paris and Accra commitments. This meant taking stock of the existing commitments by governments and donors that had not been respected and why. Mainly, the Busan commitments should promote meaningful democratic ownership of development policies, planning and actions through full engagement with, and accountability to, all development stakeholders.
- Secondly, development effectiveness must be strengthened through practices based on human rights, especially with respect to "gender equality, human rights and decent work standards."
- Third, CSOs asked that the Busan Compact recognize CSOs as independent development actors in their own right, and that it commit donors and recipient governments to facilitate an enabling environment for CSOs work in all countries. This meant committing to standards for government and donor policies, laws, regulations, and practices that create and sustain an enabling environment for CSOs
- And fourth, that beyond HLF-4, civil society called for future aid effectiveness commitments to promote an equitable and just development cooperation architecture. These civil society visions were fleshed out in more detail in the Civil Society Statement to the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Korea.
While perhaps I have belabored this history and context a bit, the debates in Cambodia over the draft Law on Associations and Non-Government Organizations, and the basis for the CCC Regional Forum "Revisiting CSO Governance and Accountability in South East Asia in the Context of Post High Level Forum 4 in Busan" takes on a more understandable light. See my blog posts for 17 October 2011 and 20 November 2011; http://www.rvanbroekhoven.blogspot.com/2011/10/power-to-tax-and-power-to-regulate-is.html
Since those two blog posts have been published, the Royal Government of Cambodia have released the fourth draft of its proposed law. As I have read these various drafts of the law, it has appeared to me that much of the debates from the High Level Fora, and the meetings of Open Society and BetterAid have driven most of the opposition to what has been proposed in these drafts.
Morever, in his presentation in the CCC Regional Forum, Lun Borithy, identified several perceived losses and continuing concerns from the High Level Forum 4 in Busan. For example, it was unclear how to contextualize the rights based approach to which the participants agreed in the Paris Declaration and in Accra Agenda for Action, whether the new actors and private sector joining in the partnership would be voluntary and without social indicators, and the vague and unenforceable minimum standards on CSO enabling environment. Some of the continuing concerns included the lack of explicit commitment to adopt human rights based approaches, the inadequate attention to women's rights, the right to development and environmental justice, and the lack of clear indicators to validate commitment progress.
As noted by CCC in its announcement and concept paper for this Regional Forum,
In Asia, various accountability schemes are being adopted and currently being actively practiced particularly in Cambodia, Pakistan, India and the Philippines but opportunities for cross learning and building strategic partnerships have yet to materialize under a south-south cooperation modality. CSO networking and solidarity movement has proven to be an effective modality to bring together like-minded organizations to collectively reflect and define common framework for effective and result based partnership. In light of this, this regional forum seeks to strengthen partnership in NGO accountability practices and accreditation, and to increase credibility and legitimacy in Civil Society in South East Asia and beyond.Thus, the overall objective of the Forum was to raise awareness and promote greater participation in regional dialogue, to exchange practical experience on governance and accountability, and to strengthen the regional CSO movement toward good governance and professional practices. In Asia, there are various schemes which have been adopted and practiced which provide some form a CSO monitoring and certification which offer opportunities for cross learning and building strategic partnerships. Those particularly in Cambodia, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines are most closely patterned after the models followed among those member organizations of ICFO. However, these opportunities for cross learning and forming strategic partnerships have not yet materialized under a south-south cooperation modality.
Thus, CCC, in hosting this Forum, brought together strategic partners within the Asia region for collective learning and promotion of strategies for the implementation of the Busan Compact, and specifically Article 22. The objectives of this regional forum were:
- To share practical experiences and best practices in promoting and enhancing CSO transparency, accountability, and legitimacy in the Asia region.
- To dialogue and establish a regional learning platform on CSO accountability and good governance for the Asia region. And,
- To situate CSO accountability and governance within the context of Post Busan Outcomes and future development trends.
This was followed by a three-speaker panel that described CSO accountability from the perspective of the High Level Fora on Aid/Development Effectiveness, emphasizing its relevance to current times when CSOs have become more influential development actors in their own right, and from the perspective in charity accountability in the context of challenges to charity accountability and models for promoting charity accountability. There was also a more extended presentation of a model, described as CSO self-regulation, as practiced by CCC and as a CSO response to increasing demand for more accountability and good practices. In this regard, there was an identification of 343 initiatives around the world that presented various models of self-regulation.
The real work and benefits derived from the Forum occurred in mini-workshops. Here participants were divided into a number of workshops that addressed the challenges and benefits of the self-regulation process from the experiences in Cambodia (Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, CCC), the Philippines (Philippine Council for NGO Certification, PCNC)), and Pakistan (Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy), as well as Australia (Australia CSO Code of Conduct managed by Australia Council for International Development, ACFID), and India (Voluntary Action Network India, VANI). All of these groups defined the advantages of having a regional CSO accountability platform and the common principles that should guide the platform.
While the participants in these mini workshops recognized that CSO within the region were at different stages of growth and maturity, and had in most of these instances, affirmed that an NGO Code and self-regulation system was challenging, they were considered valuable to the credibility and sustainability of individual CSOs and networks. Nevertheless, there was lack of clarity on the idea of a regional accreditation platform. Further, there was a recognition that all countries in the region to not yet have an acceptable NGO code of Conduct.
Since this regional forum was convened to consider CSO governance and accountability in Southeast Asia in the context of Post-High Level Forum 4 in Busan, the second day of the Forum focused on the key outcomes, challenges, and impact of HLF4 in Busan on CSO roles and work.
In the plenary session, the panelists presented the history of HLF3 in Busan, beginning with the Monterrey Consensus of 2002 and The Doha follow-up Conference of 2008 which affirmed the Monterrey Consensus, as well as the High Level Fora in Rome, Paris, and Accra. This was followed by another series of mini workshops which addressed CSO accountability and governance, legitimacy and inclusion of CSOs, with particular focus on Cambodia, and the preservation of democratic space for NGOs. Included here was specific discussion about the draft Law on Associations and Non-Government Organizations proposed by the Royal Government of Cambodia. Here, the arguments were made that the draft law was not in line with Cambodia's international treaty obligations, that there had not been meaningful consultation with NGOs, informal associations, and other civil society groups, particularly at the grassroots and community level, and that it limited fundamental freedoms and human rights as a result of mandatory and onerous registration requirements and unfettered power and authority vested in the government through its administrative provisions.
Whether or not the proposed Law on Associations and Non-Government Organizations is ever enacted and signed into law (and the RGC has just released its fourth draft of the proposed law), there are a number of other laws, which according to presenters, hinder transparency and democratic space. Examples include penal code provisions that criminalize defamation and certain types of disinformation, anti-corruption laws that fail to provide independent and transparent mechanisms to combat corruption, draft trade union law, village community safety policy, and the lack of a freedom of information act.
In the final plenary session of the forum, a panel of three resource persons were asked to give their reactions and feedback to the workshop outputs. The key messages focused on ensuring CSO financial accountability, the taking of more responsibility of the overall context within the partnership with government, the private sector, and donor public, and to look for entry points to support the accountability movement. One of the conclusions was that a regional approach could provide a dimension of solidarity, higher visibility, and greater impact so CSOs could be more steadfast, learning from each other, and acting in more harmony as one body.
From the outset, this Regional Forum was not intended to be simply a conference in which attendees from a dozen or so countries gathered to exchange information on their experiences. Rather, there was a rather specific agenda to include an outcome report that commits the participants to continue to process toward a south-south regional platform. What was so interesting was how this Phnom Penh Partnership Pact for Accountability and Governance was hammered out at the close of the sessions. Essentially, it forced the participants to to discuss strategies for implementing and monitoring commitments made in Busan, and more specifically, Article 22 of the Busan Compact.
The Phnom Penh Partnership Pact, as approved, after reciting Article 22 of the Busan Compact, stated:
Within this framework and in the spirit of living up to our commitment, we representatives of CSOs participating in this regional forum on Revisiting CSO Governance and Accountability in South East Asia in the context of Post High Level Forum 4 in Busan on December 13-14, 2011 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, commit to continue learning from each other's experiences and work toward strengthening our national coordination mechanisms and in establishing The Asia Pacific Accountability Partnership.
We therefore resolve to:
reaffirm our commitment to the Istanbul Principles for CSO Development Effectiveness adopted in September 2010 by more than 170 CSO representatives from 82 countries; reaffirm our commitment to the International Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness as the basis for CSO engagement and collaboration with all development actors to achieve the goals of Busan 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-4)
believe that coming together as a regional group will provide us continuing opportunities to learn from each other's experiences and build on our successes with the end in view of maintaining and raising our visibility and improving our practice of good governance to enable us to make more effective and relevant contribution to a truly equitable and sustainable people's development;
commit to work towards strengthening our coordination mechanisms at the national level with the end in view of contributing more effectively to a regional CSO network (build on strategies described by attached outputs of conference workshop group on strengthening national coordination);
commit to work toward establishing a regional partnership for accountability and governance through a process that will include:
- consultation with members of relevant national networks
- finalizing a concept paper building on the outputs of this conference workshop group on moving regionally
- mobilizing resources required
- formalizing the partnership
agree to set up a working group to initiate the process described above which will be hosted/led by CCC and includes: (names of members)