Civil society consultations on aid realities and concerns in the Arab Region
By Ziad Abdel Samad
[Introduction]: Human development indicators place the Arab region in a very modest position compared to other regions of the world. This is mainly due to extended implementation of inadequate national and regional economic and social policies, resulting in distorted allocation of resources. Within this context, the Arab region includes both donor countries, mainly oil-producing Gulf countries, and aid receiving countries including least developing countries.
This article summarise the challenges and concerns that stand out from the civil society organizationsâ€™ discussion on the process of aid effectiveness and the Paris Declaration in the Arab region. The discussion took place within the framework of the regional preparatory consultation before the High Level Forum in Accra.
Foreign Aid and the National Reform Agenda: The Case of Lebanon
Written by Mr Ziad Abdel Samad, Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development
Lebanon witnessed a 15 year civil war (1975-1990) that caused massive physical destruction and huge human losses. During the post war reconstruction period (1990-2007), Lebanon became a highly indebted country, whereby debt currently constitutes almost 200% of the GDP.
Since September 2004 Lebanon is witnessing an ongoing deep structural and political crisis. In July 2006, Israel launched a war against Lebanon causing huge direct and indirect losses estimated to reach over 9 billion US dollars.
The donor community convened in â€œParis III Conferenceâ€ during early 2007 and pledged more than 7.6 billion US dollars to support Lebanon. Paris III conference had three main objectives: (1) providing direct support for the post war reconstruction plan, (2) securing cash for the due debt services and (3) covering the budgetary deficit. A new reform program was promised by the government in return to these pledges; it includes significant economic and structural reform including privatization, tax increases, labour law reform, and reforms to the social security system. This program was the result of national public efforts supported by a World Bank team. The International Monetary Fund was delegated to monitor the implementation of the reform process and the multinational consultancy firm Booz Allen Hamilton was contracted to provide technical assistance to the public administration and oversee the coordination of efforts within the reform process.
In exchange, Lebanon pledged to increase growth rate by promoting foreign investment and enhancing competitiveness. This implies the integration of Lebanon in the global economic system and the promotion of trade liberalization. Unfortunately, all this process is perceived as a target in itself instead of being understood as a factor towards enhancing development, thus adopting it within the framework of a national developmental strategy.
In order to reduce the budgetary deficit, the government tends to increase public revenues by reforming the tax policy, mainly based on increasing the VAT. This is because Lebanon adopted a new tariff rate in the year 2000 which halved custom revenue. Unfortunately, these low tariff rates (mostly ranging between 5% and 10%) were adopted as well under Lebanonâ€™s obligations in its accession package to the World Trade Organization.
On the other hand, the government is working towards privatizing two major sectors in the near future: communications and power. The main objectives of this privatization are: (1) to secure cash flow to pay the due debt services, (2) to overcome the inefficiency of the public administration and (3) to enhance competitiveness.
Consequently, Lebanon is a clear model of the interlink between foreign aid and the reform agenda which is not necessarily the result of a dialogue reflecting national priorities but it is a strategy proposed according to the donorsâ€™ vision.
The Role of Civil Society Organizations in Influencing Trade Policy Making: Strategic Planning and Brainstorming Meeting
Source: Arab NGO Network for Development
The involvement of civil society organizations in trade policy processes has become perhaps the central issue in the lively and often acrimonious debate on the "democratic deficit" held by many to exist in the functioning of the multilateral trade system . The more trade interferes in social trends, domestic affairs, norms of life, national traditions, and social institutions that touch on peopleâ€™s rights and standards of living, the more civil society organizations see a necessity for interference. Civil society organizations want "in" to trade policy â€“ and not merely to be listened to and politely shown the door when the time comes for serious decision making. What they are clearly seeking is to rebalance, not simply to be heard .
Approaches to addressing trade and development policies and advocacy tools used for lobbying in this area vary among organizations and among agreements and regions. Civil society has taken on different roles and types of mobilizations in this area. Different kinds of intelligence, analysis, and advocacy on trade policy, including that in think tanks, universities, the legal community, grassroots organizations, research and advocacy groups, policy NGOs, and social movements bring their perspectives and propositions forward in quest of influencing the current trade system. Protests and mass mobilization is the most visible strategy, especially when the street protests in Seattle and other cities contributed to the collapse of the multilateral negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO).
In this context, three broad functional categories of civil society organization coalitions or networks are identified: "mobilization networks," whose chief objective is to rally support for a specific set of activities; "technical networks," which are designed to provide information to civil society organizations to facilitate their participation in the policy process; and networks dedicated to servicing developing countries, which are dubbed a "virtual secretariat" for the latter.
Given the limitation of resources, capacities, and previous experience in the area of trade policy advocacy, and discrepancies in capacities among regions, the exchange of experiences among regions and groups becomes of significant added value.
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FINANCING FOR DEVELOPMENT IN THE ARAB REGION; A CASE OF A REGION AT CROSSROADS - Financing for Democracy: An oxymoron?
Source: Arab NGO Network on development
Three main factors directly affect the impact achieved by aid flows for the purposes of financing for development in the Arab region. These are:
1. The double standards of the US and the EU with Israel, whereby the UN resolutions addressing the rights of the Palestinian people are being neglected, and Israeli nuclear weapons remain a taboo, while the insecurity in the region and the tendencies towards militarization and enhancing defense policies persist
2. Linking aid to terrorism is weakening the ability to sustain an efficient and effective flow of aid based on the national needs and not on foreign policy demands of rich countries. This is also finding new explanations for the prioritization of defense and security policies at the expense of development and social security, which has been for long the main dilemma in the Arab region.
3. Undemocratic regimes in the Arab region, which continue to repress freedoms, violate rights, and limit the space of civil society organizations are continuously being supported by various donor countries for reasons related to energy and oil sources or military bases located in several of the Arab countries.
The report argues that the role of civil society would be a crucial factor in the process of reforming aid mechanisms, guaranteeing their outreach, and making them more adequate to local and national needs, and, accordingly, more sustainable within the development policies of developing countries.
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Associating Palestine with the European Union: the present framework and the way ahead
Source: Economic Research Forum
The paper aims at putting forward recommendations with respect of the new association agreement between the European Union (EU) and the Palestine Territories which will be negotiated soon. In the process, the earlier association agreement is reviewed within the context of the EUâ€™s Mediterranean Initiative as well as the implications of the Isreali-Palestine economic accord. A number of closely related â€œtechnicalâ€ issues are also highlighted, such as the WTOâ€™s constraints on bilateral trade concessions, the EUâ€™s elaborate systems of rules of origin and the cumulation principle, and the EUâ€™s current external trade regime for fresh fruits and vegetables. The paperâ€™s central recommendation is that Palestinian negotiators should seek to integrate the EUâ€™s financial aid with trade concessions, to get more concessions from the EU on agricultural exports rather than on manufactured imports, and to use the EU-Israel agreement as a benchmark.
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