Rich Nations Heed Voters and Audit Aid

Article excerpt

The world's wealthiest nations are close to agreement on a new strategy for helping the world's poorest.

Instead of focusing on the level of official development aid, this new approach targets specific results and sets deadlines to meet them. It also endorses anticorruption provisions in the spending of aid dollars.

The goal is not just to redirect aid, but to convince voters in the richest countries that their taxes are well spent. The message is simple: Development matters. Aid works. If a contract is crooked, we'll blow the whistle on it.

And voters need convincing that foreign aid matters. Donor nations may seem rich in the eyes of the world's poor, but people from laid-off AT&T employees to public-transport strikers in France don't feel so wealthy. As Western governments trim their budgets, voters are demanding that leaders account for tax dollars spent.

The strategy is to be endorsed next week by the 26-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), based in Paris.

The plan aims to cut by one-half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by the year 2015. More than 1 billion people now live on less than $1 a day.

"In the year 2000, four-fifths of the people in the world will be living in developing countries, most with improving conditions. But the number in absolute poverty and despair will still be growing," according to a report by the OECD Development Assistance Committee, which drafted the new aid proposal.

Other 20-year goals include: universal primary education in all countries, reducing the infant mortality rate by two-thirds, and reversing the loss of environment resources, such as forests and stratospheric ozone. The report also calls for eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2005.

The OECD, a "club" for the world's most prosperous nations, reaches decisions on the basis of consensus and monitors compliance through published peer reviews. It has no power to enforce recommendations on member states.

OECD members now give more than $50 billion annually in official development assistance, more than 90 percent of the world's total. But in recent years, many OECD states have cut or plan cuts in their foreign aid budgets, including the United States (23 percent), Canada (30 percent), and Finland (40 percent).

Development officials meeting in Paris last week to prepare these recommendations were clearly aware of a growing voter backlash against foreign aid programs, and they did not hesitate to use old standards of giving to defend their programs. …