Oh no……not ‘Policy Coherence for Development’ again!!!

30/05/2011 at 1:02 pm 2 comments

Guest post by Michael McManus

Our new government promised many changes within their first 100 days and by and large, they’ve stayed true to their word. But what would happen if one of their proposed reforms was likely to have a negative impact on ending poverty in developing countries? How would Irish development NGOs feel about criticising such proposals?

Policy coherence for development* seems to have slipped off the radar in recent years despite its immense importance to the future of developing countries, to meeting the Millennium Development Goals and reaching some form of equity in relations between countries of different means. In an effort to overcome the belief that policy coherence is too complex, over the next few weeks, Dóchas will publish a number of blog posts seeking to highlight a realistic approach for NGOs to the issue of policy coherence for development.

*Policy Coherence for Development (PCD) means working to ensure that the objectives and results of a government’s development policies are not undermined by other policies, which impact on developing countries.

 * * * * * * *

Imagine the following……………

[Day 99, Government ministers meet to discuss some of the last reforms promised. The atmosphere is despite the fact that their appears to be little opposition to the final package of investment incentives]

Richard Bruton, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (RB): So, just before I hand over to the Taoiseach, do any of you have any final comments about these new proposals to attract more pharmaceutical companies to Ireland?

[Silence ensues as nervous ministers keep their heads down. All of a sudden, from the back of the room comes a concerned voice]

Jan O’Sullivan, Minister for Trade and Development (JOS): ‘Actually Minister, I have a briefing here regarding drug patents and access to essential drugs in developing countries, like Zambia and Malawi.

RB: Yes?

[Staying true to the government’s commitment to honesty and openness, the Minister for Trade and Development persists]

JOS: ‘There appears to be some incoherence between our treatment of pharmaceutical companies and their treatment of some of the poorest people in some of our Irish Aid partner countries. Perhaps there is a way for your proposals to encourage such companies to overcome these problems for example through ‘Advanced Market commitments’

[Noticing the look of disbelief on the face of his party colleague, a concerned Taoiseach looks at his watch intervenes]

Enda Kenny, Taoiseach: Right, Eamon what’s this about? How much time have we left?

Eamon Gilmore, Tánaiste (EG): ‘Well, to be honest Enda, it’s a valid but tricky issue. We could try to include something as Minister O’Sullivan suggests but it might put some of those companies off. Now, what with the budget coming up next month, I can’t see there being too much noise about this, so I suggest we counter any queries with the usual ‘Through the European Union, we are making every effort at WTO negotiations to ensure access to essential medicines for the most vulnerable.’ That should cover it, 5minutes until kick-off Enda.

[The collective relief in the room is palpable. Despite concerns about what those Shinners may say, even Richard Bruton is a little more relaxed now. But, wait…Minister O’Sullivan does not appear to be finished.]

JOS: ‘Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Minster Bruton, I am obliged to remind you that those negotiations the Tánaiste refers to concluded almost 8 years now with limited benefits for developing countries. I think this is a wonderful opportunity to compliment our rejuvenation of the economy by further enhancing our reputation as leaders in international development.

EG: I’m afraid, Deputy O’Sullivan that time is not on our side and nor will those companies and the future three thousand employees be if we do not get this Bill through a.s.a.p. Your concerns will have to wait for another day.

JOS: Yes, Tánaiste, very good, thank you.


[NOTE: This conversation never actually took place and the author is not suggesting that government policy on FDI is harmful to developing countries].

* * * * * * *

Obviously, it would be only wonderful if such discussions were actually happening and, at cabinet level!!! Yet while this scenario is quite unreal; ultimately what we are witnessing is a discussion around policy coherence for development.

For the majority of Dóchas members, joined up thinking from all government departments seems to have drifted off the agenda since the onset of the global economic crisis, if indeed it ever made it on. For a distressed general public, visions of putting the welfare of China, India and Brazil ahead of our own would not make for pleasant viewing.

If you are reading this post, the likelihood is that you know full well that this is not what policy coherence is about. Research commissioned by the Advisory Board to Irish Aid and carried out by the Institute for International Integration studies of TCD, explains that policy coherence for development is about three things:

–       Ensuring that our national policies and those of the International organisations of which we are member, at the very minimum, do not undermine our efforts to end global poverty.

–       Ensuring that where they do, we should address them either through a change of policy or through some form of mitigation.

–       Ensuring that where the opportunity arises to include in some domestic policy, a provision which could actually be beneficial to say least developed countries then we should take it!

Unfortunately, given the pressures exerted by domestic interests and realpolitik, that the areas in which policy incoherence often arise are decided in Brussels, New York or Geneva, and the belief that one needs to be an expert to truly understand policy issues, it is again not surprising that this approach to alleviating poverty has taken on such an aura of complexity that many NGOs are reluctant to engage with it.

Over the next few weeks, Dóchas will publish a number of blog posts which will seek to break down the policy coherence agenda for Ireland into real issues which affect real people both in developing countries and at times in Ireland also. It will also look at what NGOs could do promote solutions to some of these inconsistencies.

Next week, we look at the contentious issue of trade: free trade, fair trade, intellectual property and what it all means….it promises to be a lot of fun!

[The views in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dóchas. Michael McManus is a consultant working with Dóchas on the Review of the Government White Paper on Aid]

Entry filed under: Government, NGOs. Tags: , , .

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