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Newspeak instead of global solidarity?

By Mit Philips
on July 17, 2015

I’m at FfD3, which stands for Third Conference on Financing for Development, in Addis. Why? I’m not an economist, nor a development expert and certainly no politician. I work for a medical humanitarian organization, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The environment we work in is strongly defined by development politics. The current move away from the health MDGs to a much more politicized post 2015 agenda is of concern, because health is likely to lose out, undermining progress made, creating more health gaps and more calls for MSF’s help. As in development the means often determine which objectives are affordable, this FfD3 conference sets the framework for the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in September 2015.

I’m surprised and puzzled about many of the FfD conversations. The jargon is hard to follow: many strange terms and acronyms. I know MDG, SDG, ODA, DAH, PPP and now FFD. Maybe you also use MIC, LDC or FCAS. But can you explain DRM? Or TOSSD or CBDR? These obtuse letter combinations might make quite a difference for us health workers in the coming years, so better get going- even if you don’t intend to tweet about it…

FfD3 talks a lot about DRM, domestic resource mobilization, including for health goals. Donors keep telling us that’s where the solution lies, as overseas development assistance (ODA) is expected not to increase anymore after 2015. Rich countries blame the financial crisis for their failure to keep previous aid commitments. The EU pushes back spending 0,7% of their GNI on ODA to 2030!  Also the focus of the FTT (Financial Transaction Tax) has shifted away from developing countries. Budget gaps to fill at home, you know…

In contrast everybody is very optimistic about the ability of developing countries to find rapidly the necessary resources in their own country. Aid can help countries to expand taxation capacity, i.e. a catalyst for more DRM, but aid no longer buys direct results for people. There is no acronym yet for “Tax Inspectors without borders”, but it seems to appeal to rich countries.

Other ‘new’ sources of money would come from emerging economies (BRICS etc –even if the China crisis casts a shadow), from remittances and from the private sector. The rich countries want to use public ODA money to ‘leverage’ private money into development. They assure us that entrepreneurs are keen to join, happy with ‘reasonable’ returns on investment. You’ll hear even more about PPP (public–private partnerships). You also better brush up on your banking and insurance-terms, expected to dominate this brave new world.

You might even need stop speaking about ODA (grants & concessional loans), as now incorporated into TOSSD: Total Official Support for Sustainable Development. A difficult acronym for a convenient mechanism to include all flows going into a country, including commercial bank loans, private investments, credit institutions, NGOs, charity, etc.  ODA budgets were already expanded to diverse activities such as peacekeeping, trade for aid and support to migrant policies, but now TOSSD aspires to be the new measure to show how rich countries value solidarity.

Development financing will have to be blended, integrated, bridging, leveraging, catalytic, complementary… Will smokescreen terminology contaminate also the mindset of humanitarian community? Soon humanitarians might be forced to speak about economic models and business opportunities, blurring the reality of the people that need our aid most and most urgently. Health for the most vulnerable is rarely an economically interesting investment and economics hardly helpful in realizing the FfD slogan ‘leaving no one behind’.

Newspeak is not on the AAAA (Addis Ababa Action Agenda), but quite some people say the FfD3 is unlikely to bring any concrete outcomes. Some propose to recycle the FfD acronym in the spirit of sustainability and read the logo now as ‘Financing for Dependency’. Let’s see which one will stick.

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