STOCKHOLM (AlertNet) - Many “broken” multilateral institutions must be more transparent and effective about where funds go to boost aid effectiveness, especially with emergency humanitarian assistance, Sweden’s international development minister said.
Gunilla Carlsson said donor countries like Sweden needed to embrace globalization by channeling more aid through multilateral organisations such as U.N. agencies and global relief funds rather than bilateral projects, but that this was hindered by a lack of transparency over where money went.
“Can we have the transparency and the following-the-money if we just give quite a lot to the UNDP (U.N. Development Programme) for example? … Not yet … Absolutely not yet,” Carlsson said in an interview.
Carlsson, a minister in Sweden’s centre-right government, has proved controversial in her six years at the helm of a 36 billion crown ($5 billion) annual foreign aid budget, focusing on turning around what she says had been a wasteful aid programme to one that prioritises “value for money”. Of the overall aid budget, 5.3 billion crowns goes on humanitarian spending each year.
“One cannot give up the bilateral,” Carlsson said. “But if we should see results and impact we have to work much more in line with multilateral institutions…and of course the whole multilateral system today - I have just come back from Rio - one can argue it’s really broken.”
The minister said around a third of Sweden’s aid went to multilaterals, and the rest on bilateral projects. She said she would like to reverse those figures.
“There is a lot of energy in the development agenda but it’s not within the U.N. system, it’s absolutely not in New York …That is the main trouble with multilateralism.”
Carlsson’s statements have weight due to Sweden’s image as a poster child of effective foreign aid. The country spends around 1 percent of its gross domestic product on foreign aid – one of the highest proportions in the world - and 4 percent of the national budget goes to foreign aid projects.
‘BE A LITTLE MORE COOL’
Carlsson has gained a reputation as being tough on corruption.
The government has made government documents on aid projects available on the Internet, so donors can see where aid funds have gone.
But some of her own officials were reported to have objected to her strong criticisms of how the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency was run. Some aid workers also say her focus on value for money has emphasized short-term gains over long-term development plans.
In 2011, the Swedish government briefly withheld 600 million crowns for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria over concerns of corruption in some of the programmes. She also was open about problems of corruption at a Swedish government-funded project in Zambia.
“It was tough to do the transparency thing internally,” she said. “But it was equally tough in the international jet set of development actors to start to talk about corruption.”
The minister said more help than ever was needed for emergency humanitarian assistance from earthquakes in Haiti to floods in Pakistan. But more effort was needed to avoid the need for emergency aid in the first place.
“We have to be a little more cool, to stop just asking for fire brigades all the time,” Carlsson said. “It is very easy to ask for money for emergencies because everyone comes in. I think we are pouring a lot of money into it without measuring. Everyone is rushing to the hotspots, the sliding catastrophes … we are doing the acute things and sometimes still in an uncoordinated way.
“There is a lot of good thinking going on in the humanitarian system... But we don’t have all the time in the world.”
Carlsson pointed to the hunger crisis in the Sahel.
“We are not doing the preparedness well enough because we see when crises are coming,” the minister said. “For example, in Sahel, we should politically, from the European Union, try and do more before everything bursts out. But then everything bursts out and everyone is looking to development ministers for humanitarian assistance as the fire brigade.”
Emphasising her centre-right credentials, she said private business and globalization was increasingly key to alleviating poverty in developing countries.
“How we can help Somalia to come into globalization?” she asked. “People will say come on, we do humanitarian assistance. We help them with state building and institutions. But that will take time.
“Can business be more of an agent of change there earlier than we perhaps anticipated? That I think is where aid can make a difference, to cut the risks, to see that business perhaps can move in earlier.”