The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

The lynchpin of Busan: Ensuring development of the people, by the people, for the people

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This blog was written by Archana Palaniappan, Oxfam America policy and advocacy advisor for aid effectiveness. She is now in Korea for the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. Who is development for? For people, right? But far too often, people are excluded from the decision-making that impacts their destiny. This week, citizen activists […]

This blog was written by Archana Palaniappan, Oxfam America policy and advocacy advisor for aid effectiveness. She is now in Korea for the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.

Who is development for? For people, right? But far too often, people are excluded from the decision-making that impacts their destiny.

This week, citizen activists and advocates from around the world are gathering in Busan, Korea at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4) in an effort to give poor people more say in the development decisions.

If we believe that people are truly agents of their own change, then the outcome at Busan needs to help them achieve that right, by safeguarding an enabling environment for all people. Development works best when people have a voice and can determine the types of assistance that are most useful for them, and when they can hold their leaders accountable for delivering that type of assistance. Therefore, donors and recipient governments need to be committed to protecting and increasing the space for people to hold their governments accountable so we can see the right results.

Advocates for the poor have a unique opportunity in Busan to reverse the pernicious trend of restrictive civil society laws now present in half the world’s countries. What’s at stake is very real. Governments across the world are acting to silence the voices of civil society.

Aid needs to help watchdogs demand accountability from their governments---and help governments deliver for their citizens. Photo: Jim Holmes/Oxfam America.
Aid needs to help watchdogs demand accountability from their governments---and help governments deliver for their citizens. Photo: Jim Holmes/Oxfam America.

Even now as donors negotiate the outcomes of Busan, the government of Cambodia is simultaneously attempting to enact a law on associations and NGOs that would severely restrict rights to association, assembly, and expression.

If passed, the law would negatively impact organizations that work to represent the marginalized and those organizations that help Cambodia’s poor. The possible dismantling of watchdog monitoring groups for accountability could open windows for corruption. Donors have a role to play here. As donors strive to trust and support local leadership, their efforts should include helping support space for citizens to voice their concerns and needs, including through associations and NGOs.

Cambodia’s real-time example (the final draft law could be enacted soon after HLF4) demands a strong Busan outcome document that emphasizes an enabling environment for citizens and civil society, democratic ownership, and basic human rights that impact people’s right to be heard.

A strong international document would be a powerful tool for Cambodians and others in over 90 countries facing excessive restrictions to push for their rights to organize and hold their governments accountable.

If we believe that people are truly agents of their own change, then the premise of the Busan outcome document needs to clearly define that country ownership is about governments and people. As we debate development effectiveness in Busan, we need to be conscious of why we are here: development of the people, by the people, for the people.

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