OECD DAC HLM - Changing the Narrative on Development, October 2017

OECD Development Assistance Committee High-Level Meeting - October 2017

Delegations from the 30 richest donor countries met in late October 2017 at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) in Paris to discuss changes to the rules governing overseas aid. The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD holds its high-level meeting (HLM) every two years, which is a formal, ministerial-level meeting of DAC members and observers to advance the global agenda on key development issues.

Winnie Byanyima was invited to contribute to the meeting on behalf of Oxfam.

Some more information can be found on the OECD website, on Devex here and here, and Oxfam's reaction to the meetings can be found here.

Session: "Changing the development narrative in the era of the 2030 Agenda” (Opening Session)


Thank you Charlotte, thank you Committee for giving me the honor to speak for Oxfam in these meetings. I feel a heavy duty to do justice to people Oxfam works with in poverty, most of all women in the South. I am here to echo their voices.

Many people don’t know what the DAC has done for so many lives but I do. Our world halved poverty, got more girls into school. Millions are alive today due to better access to medicines.  Emerging nations growth powered this progress, but debt relief and aid too – your decisions directly lifting millions from poverty. 

That was then. What of today? Poor young people fleeing from home are drowning on the shores of some of our richest nations. 2017 has been on the brink of 4 famines. Famines - in 2017!

Let’s get the lens right from the start: 8 men – 8 men! – now own as much wealth as the bottom 3.6 billion. World Bank President Kim has been clear that unless we close the gap between rich and poor hundreds of millions will still be in extreme poverty in 2030.

Development cooperation is the one public policy in rich countries that is directly intended to put poor people in developing countries first. Never forget how extraordinary that is. I have three points on how we rewrite the development narrative:

First is building effective states.  

The latest GPEDC report shows that half of aid that is meant to strengthen government institutions is bypassing the very institutions it's supposed to build. 

We need long-term and predictable aid to support government budgets to pay for teachers and nurses and strengthen government capacity. The OECD’s own analysis shows clearly how this kind of budget support improves health and education and reduces poverty (Evaluating the impact of budget support, OECD, 2015). 

Supporting effective states must be matched by supporting active citizens who are pushing their governments to deliver. The DAC must get behind them – not just NGOs but unions, women’s rights movements, journalists. And you must heed their call to protect their civic space which is being threatened all over the world. 

Instead we’re seeing wrong-headed investments. 

Precious aid to get talented girls in schools is being diverted to failing and wasteful public-private partnerships.
Their beneficiaries are often companies in home countries – jobs for the rich men at home, not poor girls abroad! We need your commitment to solely support public health and education and help to stop their privatization.

Secondly: I want to write aid out of a job as many of you will do. We need aid to help governments mobilize taxes and other domestic resources to deliver essential services.

-    In 2015 OECD data shows that donors invested only 0.14% of ODA - $190 million - in programs that supported domestic revenue mobilization – DRM. That’s a poor investment.

19 DAC members are joining the Addis Tax Initiative and committing to allocate more aid to support DRM. I welcome that. 

But you can do far more to ensure taxes are spent accountably and raised progressively. Oxfam’s research found that in low-income countries on average countries are collecting just 14% of the corporate and personal income tax that they could. Very few developing countries have taxes on property and capital gains which can ensure the richest pay their fair share. 

Instead poorer governments place the burden on regressive indirect taxes such as VAT. Poor women feel their impact most.

Let’s set some ambitious goals for progressive taxation with developing countries – and build the capacity of chronically under-resourced tax administrations so they can collect taxes. 

Finally: Your responsibility doesn’t start and end with aid. Within your own governments, you are the most powerful of advocates for poor people. Help to bring more coherence into government.

The OECD estimates that developing countries lose three times more money to tax havens than they get in aid each year. 

Or take Yemen. The world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The UK is its second-largest aid donor. £138 million this year, reaching millions – whilst other parts of the government sign export licenses worth billions for arms that fuel a war harming the same people. 

Aid can be transformative, yes – but not when other policies are undermining it.

A new narrative is going to need some bold choices from you. I look forward to the sessions ahead. Thank you.