Rethinking Foreign Aid

Chrétien Urges a Ranking System

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien delivers his proposals for restructuring foreign aid at the U.N. Summit in Monterrey, Mexico, March 21, 2002 (Photo: AFP).

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, in a keynote speech to Africa today, will make his pitch for what one Canadian official says is “pretty damn close” to Africa’s last chance for a new deal with the industrialized world. But Chrétien and some key African players may not be singing from the same hymn book on a key plank of their proposed new partnership—African countries ranking themselves on respect for human rights and good government. The top performers will be eligible for an enhanced partnership with more aid and investment.

The African diplomat who is in charge of designing the ranking system—K.Y. Amoako, head of the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Africa—made clear in an interview yesterday that on some points, he sees things differently than Chrétien. Chrétien said he expected a straightforward, report card-style ranking. “They will have to classify themselves, too. They have peer reviews. So, one will be No. 1 and one will be 53,” Chrétien said this week. But Amoako, who meets with Chrétien today, said that [approach] might be too rigid. “I wouldn’t say that out of this you can come up with a rigid categorization,” Amoako said.

Documents obtained by The Star suggest that some African leaders have already been working behind the scenes to water down the much-vaunted ranking system—by trying to limit it to looking at the economic and corporate performance of governments, not such sensitive political issues as respect for human rights. Economic governance refers to standards of accounting, auditing, and institutions for making policy. Corporate governance refers to things that create a stable environment for investment, such as licensing, investment, tax rules, and regulations. Political governance includes such factors as respect for human rights, free press, and action against corruption. “African countries do not want to criticize each other on human rights,” one African diplomatic source close to the discussions said yesterday.

It has become a mantra for Chrétien that the cornerstone of his plan to have the G-8 industrialized countries produce a plan for Africa is that African countries develop their own so-called “peer review mechanism” to rank their performance in all three areas. Only the top performers would get an enhanced package of aid and investment from the industrialized countries. The G-8 plan Chrétien has pledged to produce at the G-8 summit he will host in Kananaskis, Alberta, in June, will be a response to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) put forward by African countries. The NEPAD plan provides for a peer-review mechanism, but the details haven’t been agreed upon. A senior Canadian official told reporters here last night that establishing such a peer-review mechanism is “absolutely essential” to the G-8 action plan. But Amoako, who is one of the top U.N. officials in Africa, made clear that things are not nearly as clear-cut as Chrétien and his entourage suggest.

The commission Amoako heads was chosen to design the peer review mechanism because it has done similar work in the area of economic performance, so far ranking 36 African countries in terms of their auditing and accounting standards, banking systems, financial management, monetary policy, and fiscal transparency. Amoako calls these economic governance indicators “the nitty-gritty of government” and points out that such factors are relatively easy to measure and rank in a consistent way. But he is not so sure that the whole range of things that contribute to good governance—respect for human rights, free media, representative political systems—can be so easily ranked, even though Chrétien has made clear the G-8 leaders are looking for a “1-to-53” ranking of performance in those areas, too. “This idea of ranking of countries by (economic) performance is something that we’ve been pioneering, so that I can see,” Amoako said. “But on the governance issues I don’t think...that ranking is that critical.”

At a summit two weeks ago in Abuja, leaders of the 15 African countries on the NEPAD committee supported a draft report on how to create the review mechanism. The Star obtained copies of an original draft of the proposed peer-review mechanism and a copy of an edited version released after the Abuja summit. The draft of the peer-review mechanism was toned down before being released. For example, the first draft said the mechanism would focus on “political, economic, and corporate governance.” But the edited draft released to the public eliminated the reference to “political” governance and referred only to economic and corporate factors. The original draft also listed some specific indicators for measuring political governance, such as: Are political parties allowed to freely mobilize? Has the last election been free and fair? But those specific criteria for measuring political governance are not included in the version of the proposed review mechanism made public.