Romancing to Rhetoric
November's focus on Financing for Development dealt principally with the issues relating to the upcoming UN Conference to be held in Monterrey, Mexico. Of these, the most important was on the dynamics of the conference, as well as pertinent issues dealing with World Bank/IMF issues.
Two articles that featured, respectively, in WTOIL 2 November, and WTOIL 9 November dealt with the very issue of the background, and the dynamics. The first, entitled "Background for Financing for Development Conference", was produced by the Brussels-based NGO, CIDSE.
With respect to background, the report maintained that the FfDevelopment preparations came about at the request of developing countries in 1998. Consequently, the UN started to prepare a consultation process "on how the commitments agreed at major conferences of the 1990s were to be financed."(WTOIL 2 November). The challenges to be tackled at this conference are referred to in the article as "fundamental development challenges: how to mobilise domestic and international resources for development, including foreign direct investment [FDI], how to improve the development impact of debt restructuring, ODA [Overseas Development Assistance] and trade policy." The aims are further enumerated as "including a better global governance and financial architecture reform."
To the outsider, the problem with this conference is that it can potentially be - again - only about words. UN Conferences are generally perceived as glib affairs where rhetoric is romanced to death. Small wonder, then, that it is the extent to which participants can come out of this conference with something concrete in their hands that remains to be seen. If the current events in Argentina, and the events of September 11 have taught us anything, it is that nothing is as black and white as it appears to be. Also, there should there be no room for complacency, either among the developing countries, or the developed ones, that aid is sufficient to lift the 600 million people, living on a dollar-a-day statistics, out of their plight.
Perhaps this is the reason why this UN conference will be held at what the report calls "the highest political level", rather than the ministerial level, so that it can offer a more holistic approach to the objectives that have been set ahead.
What is also interesting about this conference is the way in which the main multilateral institutions have been asked to co-operate. Of these, the most notable are the WTO, UNCTAD, IMF, and World Bank that have been asked to provide an input so as to "adopt a concrete and precise plan of action for the international community".
The agenda for the conference is very comprehensive, with decisions to schedule discussions on "mobilising domestic financial resources for development; mobilising international resources for development; trade; increasing international financial co-operation for development; debt; and addressing systemic issues". If this may sound too bombastic, or pompous, for the untrained, it appears it is this jargon that is ostensibly setting the tone for international civil society to engage with politicians more easily. Actually, there are clarifications of these issues at the UN's site here: http://www.un.org/esa/ffd.
The second article that came from the UN's website at http://www.un.org, pretty much repeated much of what can be read in the referenced article above - with just one exception: a quote by UN secretary-general. Kofi Annan admonished that very good speeches, with targets set, at the Millennium Declaration notwithstanding, those targets cannot be achieved "unless there is real development throughout the world, especially in the poorest countries. And development", he maintained, "cannot happen without resources, especially financial resources."(WTOIL 9 November).
Looks like it's time for NGOs and the rest of Civil Society to bite the bullet at this UN Conference.
On another slant to the FfD discussions, we featured articles on the World Bank and its fellow partner in crime, the IMF. Before that, however, came an article that appeared in WTOIL 16 November. Entitled "Minister Calls For Aid, Trade, Debt Relief", and culled from the UN's Integrated regional Information Networks, the article maintained that the Tanzanian MFA (Minister for Foreign Affairs), Jakaya M Kikwete, had "expressed concern at the continuing fall-off in levels of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) from donor countries."
Kikwete had been speaking at the 56th UN Genera Assembly, and took the opportunity to rally the international community -- the UN included -- to "retain a development agenda at the heart of its objectives and activities in order to assist the developing countries." This would, ofcourse, beg the question of why such remonstrations to the UN is necessary when the WTO has dubbed its new round as a "Development Round". Could this be an implicit indication that Tanzania may just not be convinced?
Kikwete elaborated on the issue, arguing that his government had spent "on average, one third of its budget on debt-servicing, and a further third on salaries." He continues that "this left only a third to maintain law and order, and provide basic social and economic services like health, education, water, communications and transport." We all know what the IMF's SAPs (Structural Adjustment Programmes) are setting as conditionalities for aid, don't we? The very cutting of the health and education sector, plus the privatisation of water, if you happen also to be in the HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Countries) initiative.
Though Tanzania finds solace in agreements such as AGOA, (Please see SOD Report 2.4: "Free Trade Unlimited: Mercosur, SADC, AGOA, and New Zealand") and the ACP Group (SOD Report 5.4: "ACP Group and Agriculture Before WTOMC4"), it would still like to witness a new configuration in the Security Council that still maintains what some would consider an antiquated constellation dating back to 1945. Africa, Kikwete believes, should also be represented. Finally, he exhorted the developed world to take into consideration the fact that "debt relief and debt forgiveness will go a long way towards enhancing government capacity to discharge its duties."
World Bank Woes and IMF
Finally, two articles stood out like a sore thumb in WTOIL 2 November, not because they both concerned the World Bank and IMF's execrable development policies, but made significant contributions to the events of September 11 and how that has affected, and will affect NGOs. (WTOIL 2 November, "IFI's & Civil Society in New Political Context".)
It also amplified the role NGOs can play into making marked progress towards their criticisms of multilateral institutions but, for the sake of clarity, I am outlining only the first article which I personally found apolitical in the light of the tragedy of 9/11.
The first article to do so was entitled "Bretton Woods Revisited", and is written by Susan Aaronson on the speakout.com website. It read as a rather refreshing insight, albeit historical, of the roles of multilateral institutions such as the WTO, the UN, and World Bank.
Aaranson argues that protests, as exemplified by those in Seattle, Melbourne, etc, do have both positive and negative impacts. On the plus side, "they have forced policy-makers and the public to be more honest about the costs and benefits of globalisation, as well as the need for new priorities and greater transparency at the international economic institutions."(WTOIL 2 November).
On the flip side, the demonstrators, she maintains, "have also demagogued these same economic institutions and the rationale behind their creation." She then seeks to disprove the statements made by NGOs, such as the International Forum on Globalisation (ifg.org), that "globalisation was deliberately designed by economists, bankers, and corporate leaders to institute a form of economic activity and control." Aaronson argues that this is "simply untrue", and attempts to inject a historical argument.
Which is not to say that her arguments are specious. She makes a very important point about multilateral institutions that many people would find quick to agree with. In her eyes, "the only way to achieve a more humane and just world is to develop and constantly fine tune international institutions to mediate between different nations and cultures." She says, "this does not mean 'gutting the GATT', 'spanking the bank' or 'eradicating the IMF'", as the protesters demand.
For those quick to disagree with her, it bears reminding that theses institutions that NGOs especially may appear to criticise incessantly are here, and here to stay. This means we have no choice but to co-operate with them by exercising the very best pressure we can, as activists, or pressure groups. Aaronson could well be right that, yes, they need remodelling, "but to do so effectively does not require us to tear them down."
Wise words in these dark days of paranoia.
© E.K.Bensah, 2002