G8 Summit 2005—One Year On

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  • by Anup Shah
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The 2005 G8 Summit at Gleneagles, Scotland, promised a lot of debt relief, aid and other benefits, particularly for Africa. However, though the media reported a lot on the amazing sounding deals there was much less said on the use of fancy accounting and spin by G8 leaders in their declarations. Due to the 2005 G8 Summit’s prominence and the massive global public pressure at the time, a number of people have asked one year on whether there has been any positive progress.

On this page:

  1. Some limited progress
  2. But many reasons to be concerned about poor progress
  3. Mainstream Media Attention
  4. Are such grand promises by the G8 and others doomed for failure, and is it pointless trying to pressure them to do anything?

Some limited progress

Oxfam, one of the organizations leading the pressure on G8 nations to deliver on various anti-poverty measures feels that there is not enough being done, though there has been some progress.

For example, debt cancellation is already making a difference:

On 6 January 2006, the IMF cancelled the debts owed to it by 19 of the world’s poorest countries. This will change the lives of millions of people. In Ghana the money saved is being used for basic infrastructure, including rural feeder roads, as well as increased expenditure on education and health care. In Tanzania, the government is using the money saved to import vital food supplies for those affected by drought. Across Africa, lifting the burden of debt is allowing millions of dollars to be directed to fighting poverty instead of repaying rich countries.

The view from the summit—Gleneagles G8 one year later , Oxfam, June 6, 2006, p.3

Similarly, the UK government’s Department for International Development, is quite upbeat about progress so far, though these and others are all quick to warn about complacency.

However, some may wonder that surely they would say positive things would they not? After all, highlighting as many positives as possible reduces criticism.

Authors and critics of global foreign aid programs such as economics professor, William Easterly, feel that many of these are large, top-down driven programs which are doomed to fail. In some regards, he is quite convincing. In his book, The White Man’s Burden; Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest have Done So Much Ill and so Little Good (Penguin Press, 2006), Easterly suggests that instead, smaller more targetted steps should be taken, where accountablility is based on results, not in inputs (such as how much debt is cancelled, how much aid is given, etc.) He suggests free markets are the way though he does concede that the shock therapy kind of free market imposition as witnessed in the former Soviet Union is top-down and disastrous (he consulted and promoted such steps with the World Bank before realizing this was not helpful).

However, perhaps Easterly too is being oversimplistic? For example, as Oxfam also notes,

Zambia [is] reaping the benefits of cancelled debts.

The impact of debt cancellation in Zambia will reduce the country’s debt from $7bn to about $500m, releasing vital resources for reducing poverty. Zambia has just released its new budget for 2006, and the share of spending on both health and education has substantially increased. It has also removed fees for basic health care. Extra spending on education will include funds to recruit more than 4,500 teachers, and for the construction and rehabilitation of schools in rural and urban areas. Additional funds are going to HIV/AIDS control and mitigation programmes, primary and community health care, recruitment of medical personnel, and the purchasing of medical equipment and medicines.

The view from the summit—Gleneagles G8 one year later , Oxfam, June 6, 2006, p.3

That Zambia was able to provide free health care after debt cancellation suggests that some aspects of top down or aid through governments are important. However, as the OECD warns, when looking at aid in the form of government budget support, it requires political will from the recipient government and only when present, can be successful:

When a developing country’s government has the political will to reduce poverty, budget support can be an effective way for donors to deliver aid. Overall, it has helped to strengthen the relationship between donors and developing country governments, and encouraged better coordination between different donors. It has helped to strengthen planning and budget systems, making them more transparent and therefore accountable. It has also helped to prioritise areas of expenditure that target the poor like health and education.

Should OECD Donors Deliver Aid Through Poor Country Government Budgets? , OECD, May 9, 2006

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But many reasons to be concerned about poor progress

Where pessimism from Easterly seems warranted is because so many recipient governments appear not to have this will, or accountabilty. What Easterly also argues, (and, as he also notes, so do many organizations and aid charities that are critical of rich country government aid/debt relief programs) is that the donors themselves are often unaccountable. What if they do not deliver on their promise? What if they (as has often been the case) knowingly lend to corrupt governments, or sell them arms, or in some way, make things worse? Where is their accountability?

Oxfam is also critical of some of the progress by G8 countries. Noting that after the July 2005 Summit much of the time since has involved intense wrangling over the details by the rich countries. Some rich countries and the World Bank and IMF themselves have made a number of attempts to water down the deal. For example,

  • In order to save money, the World Bank deal now only covers debts up to the end of 2003 [rather 2004, which was initially agreed]; a stroke of the pen costing poor countries $5 billion in debts that will not now be cancelled;
  • Many massively indebted countries still remain excluded from the deal;
  • Countries are still subject to what are generally considered as harmful economic conditions in return for the debt relief;
  • There is no recognition of the illegitimate origins of much of this debt in irresponsible lending such as debt incurred by unelected leaders in the 1980s. For example, the current South African government is paying back billions lent to the former Apartheid regime.
  • Aid delivery contains spin: for example, though there is a pledged increase, this is still only half of what was pledged back in 1970! (The accumulated shortfall in aid in 2003 figures is over $2 Trillion.)
  • A deal at the 2005 Summit promised increased aid. Although 2005 aid levels did increase accordingly, 80% of that increase is made up of one-off debt cancellation deals for Iraq and Nigeria—it is not actually new money in the fight against poverty. Together these two deals add up to $17 billion of the $21 billion increase.
  • Technical assistance from rich countries is often expensive, and counted as part of the aid. The World Bank calculates that just one day’s consultancy costs can pay a teacher’s salary for a year.

What is the effect of this fancy accounting by rich country governments? Oxfam summarizes:

Debt cancellation for poor countries like Nigeria is important and necessary. The cancellation of debts owed by poor countries to rich ones allows countries to invest in education, health, and other anti-poverty policies, as we have seen.… In addition aid has to be massively increased. However, if rich countries use their aid budgets to pay for this cancelling of debts then in fact no new money is available for poor countries to spend on fighting poverty.

In 2002 at the Monterrey Financing for Development conference, rich countries promised to stop this practice of double counting debt cancellation as aid. Despite the promise the practice continues.

The view from the summit—Gleneagles G8 one year later , Oxfam, June 6, 2006, pp. 4-5

It is worth quoting Oxfam again on the examples and dangerous effects of disingenuous double-counting:

In addition to using aid to pay for debt cancellation, rich countries also count the full cost of the cancellation over a very short period. But the savings made by poor countries are spread over a much longer timeframe. This means aid figures are inflated by apparently huge amounts, even when the actual money available to spend fighting poverty is far less. For example, aid figures in 2005 and 2006 will include the full cost of cancelling $18 billion of Nigeria’s $35 billion debt. But the actual saving to Nigeria will be approximately $1 billion annually over the next 20 years. The net result is that despite aid looking as if it has increased enormously in 2005, the actual new money available to fight poverty is much less.… The danger is that this will mask a failure to increase the underlying volume of real aid in line with their Gleneagles commitments [made in 2005], allowing the G8 to take their foot off the accelerator.

The impact of this lack of generosity is that key global initiatives set up to fight poverty cannot find funding. The Education Fast Track Initiative (Education FTI), the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria and the new UN Central Emergencies Response Fund remain shockingly under-funded.

The overall message on aid is clear: the G8 are failing to deliver the aid increases they have promised; the inflation of figures by debt cancellation masks the paucity of resources on the ground, and this translates into children out of school, people dying needlessly, classes of 100 students per teacher, or 8,000 people to each health worker. Unless the rules are changed, aid figures will again be massively inflated next year due to the second tranche of the deals for Iraq and Nigeria taking effect. The G8 must use its meeting in Russia to change the rules, stop double counting debt cancellation as aid, and agree to cancel the debts of all the countries that need it to fight poverty. G8 countries must also set clear timetables for how they will deliver genuine increases in high-quality long-term aid and meet the promise of giving 0.7 per cent of their income by 2010 at the latest.

The view from the summit—Gleneagles G8 one year later , Oxfam, June 6, 2006, pp. 5-6, 8 (Emphasis added)

(This site’s section on foreign aid goes into more depth, looking at issues around the aid numbers vs. the aid promises, the quality/effectiveness of aid, and more.)

As Easterly has strongly criticized, given these and other concerns, making poverty history will likely not come from rich country governments, or even publicized concerts by celebrities, though the latter may indeed importantly help raise awareness.

Furthermore, as many argue, trade is equally, if not more important than, aid and debt relief because these latter forms of assistance are short term measures, but trade is the way towards long term prosperity. International policies and forums are typically dominated by the bigger, richer countries, often defending their own interests. This is understandable in some regards, but that is often accompanied by spin about how their preferred measures are beneficial for the poor. A major World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong, December 2005, proved to be unsuccessful for developing countries attempting to get rich countries to remove their long-standing barriers to trade, as described in further detail on this site (see previous link).

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Mainstream Media Attention

And how successful has that raised awareness been in a mainstream sense? It seems that the mainstream media only provides increased attention when rich governments meet or say something (e.g. one year on from the G8 2005 Summit when leaders are to meet again, then these issues and concerns have resurfaced). Where is that similar level—or more—media attention when the poor suffer throughout the year?

Again, media attention and programming seems driven less by the concerns and challenges of the poor (though that does not deny they have concerns, for their programming on such topics—when it happens—can be very good), but by following and reporting on rich country governments. The poor do not seem to exist, or the rich do not recognize them. And the rich seem to dictate how the poor will get out of poverty.

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Are such grand promises by the G8 and others doomed for failure, and is it pointless trying to pressure them to do anything?

This criticism of the media might be a bit harsh or cynical, but this raising of awareness, public concerts and so forth have been going on for decades. This is where critics such as Easterly have a potent point:

To oversimplify … the needs of the rich get met because the rich give feedback to political and economic Searchers, and they can hold the Searchers [for solutions] accountable for following through with specific actions. The needs of the poor don’t get met because the poor have little money or political power with which to make their needs known and they cannot hold anyone accountable to meet those needs. They are stuck with Planners [who plan for them]. The … tragedy [of failed foreign aid] continues.

To make things even worse, aid bureaucrats [from rich donor countries] have incentives to satisfy the rich countries doing the funding as well as (or instead of) the poor. One oversight in the quest to help the poor was the failure to study the incentives of its appointed helpers. The bureaucratic managers have the incentive to satisfy rich-country vanity with promises of transforming the Rest rather than simply helping poor individuals. Internal bureaucratic incentives also favor grand global schemes over getting the little guy what he wants.

… A big part of the problem originates with the rich-country governments who set the mandates of the aid agencies. Dear rich-country funders, please give up your utopian fantasies of transforming the Rest. Don’t reward aid agencies for setting goals that are impossible as they are politically appealing. Please just ask aid agencies to focus on narrow, solvable problems. For example, let them focus on the health, education, electrification, water problems, and piecemeal policy reforms to promote the private sector—where they already had some success—and fix some remaining problems such as the refusal of donors to finance operations and maintenance.

Collective responsibility for the Millennium Development Goals or any other goals does not work. Hold aid agencies individually responsible for what they own program achieve, not for global goals. Letting different agencies specialize in different areas would also lessen the coordination problem.

William Easterly, The White Man’s Burden; Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest have Done So Much Ill and so Little Good, (Penguin Press, 2006), pp. 17, 167, 204-205

While both the likes of Easterly and of Oxfam are critical of large grandiose promises that have not been delivered, there are also some differences. While organization such as Oxfam continue to pressure rich country governments on various fronts, Easterly believes that misses the point as they insist on still trying to go the top-down route and trying to get the rich governments to be more honest and direct programs via poor country governments. Instead, smaller programs targetted directly at individuals and peacemeal reforms are the way, he feels.

Easterly’s argument is persuasive, but sometimes appears not to take the power and influence of rich counties and multinationl corporations in mind, as these have the influence on the global system and instead he feels those entities are well-intentioned but misguided if they think they can solve problems from the outside.

There is probably an element of truth in all views, but many people from previously colonized countries will remember their long histories, and might be skeptical. As noted throughout this site, the powerful have always tried to maintain their interest and position of power. A view occassionally heard in the western mainstream media by critics of African governments is that some do not want to help fight poverty because their position of power will be weakened by more democracy, more development, etc. Yet, rarely do we hear similar concerns about rich countries’ relationship to the rest of the world. (See J.W. Smith’s writings at the Institute for Economic Democracy for more in-depth information on this perspective, for example.)

Yet others may argue that it is not necessarily these Planners (Easterly’s term to describe those proposing top-down policy prescriptions) actively seek to keep the poor in poverty; they may be well-intentioned, but their education, culture, society, whatever, is geared towards perpetuating the existing system, so they cannot think outside of that framework of orientation (a term coined by J.W. Smith). The pressures of globalization affect both rich and poor nations, and so can (understandably) drive people that are in a position of power to follow the bad policies that we actually do see them pursue in foreign affairs.

The authoritative Assistant Director of Development Studies at the University of Cambridge, Professor Ha-Joon Chang, for example, looks at the historical context, and just as J.W. Smith and others have noted, finds that today’s rich countries developed using different policies than those typically prescribed to today’s poor countries:

‘How did the rich countries really become rich?’

The short answer to this question is that the developed countries did not get to where they are now through the policies and the institutions that they recommend to developing countries today. Most of them actively used ‘bad’ trade and industrial policies, such as infant industry protection and export subsidies—practices that these days are frowned upon, if not actively banned, by the WTO. Until they were quite developed (that is, until the late nineteenth to early twentieth century), they had very few of the institutions deemed essential by developing countries today, including such ‘basic’ institution as central banks and limited liability companies.

If this is the case, aren’t the developed countries, under the guise of recommending ‘good’ policies and institutions, actually making it difficult for the developing countries to use policies and institutions they themselves had used in order to develop economically in earlier times?

Ha-Joon Chang, Kicking Away The Ladder, (London: Anthem Press, 2002), pp.2–3. (Emphasis is original)

Chang also notes that German economist Friedrich List had analyzed the political system in his classic work, The National System of Political Economy (1841), and observed that even the rise of Britain, the hero of free trade and the free-market economy, was actually characterized by protecting infant industries. Chang comments that,

List [argued] that free trade is beneficial among countries at similar levels of industrial development … but not between those at different levels of development. Like many of his contemporaries in countries that were trying to catch up with Britain, he argues that free trade benefits Britain but not the less developed economies…. To [List]…, the preachings on the virtues of free trade by British politicians and economist of his time were done for nationalistic purposes, even though they were cast in the generalistic languages…. He is worth quoting…

It is a very common clever device that when anyone has attained the summit of greatness, he kicks away the ladder by which he has climbed up, in order to deprive others of the means of climbing up after him. In this lies the secret of the cosmopolitical doctrine of Adam Smith, and of the cosmopolitical tendencies of his great contemporary William Pitt, and of all his successors in the British Government administrations.

Ha-Joon Chang, Kicking Away The Ladder, (London: Anthem Press, 2002), pp.4–5. (Emphasis is Chang’s)

Chang is looking at development from the perspective of international trade while Easterly is focused on development from the perspective of internal market development. Chang is therefore implying that for the kind of developments needed locally, international actions do have an impact. Easterly feels that international actions are misguided, though well-intentioned, while Chang sees historical calculation and power acting to conspire against development.

It is likely we will never know which views are correct, and there is perhaps a mixture of reasons; a mixture of bumbling mistakes, calculated statecraft, poor execution by some developing countries, and lack of opportunities for the poor, etc.

It would seem that continued global action and pressure is needed on G8 countries and international institutions, with a view to make effective aid, debt relief, etc realistic, because some progress is no doubt already being realized. But those implementing that delivery and those looking to use freed resources effectively are perhaps wise to heed Easterly’s warnings and concerns, too.

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