Country Ownership Post-2015: Will the post-2015 agenda support country ownership of sustainable development processes?

Will the post-2015 agenda support country ownership of sustainable development processes? This question has been of central concern to me as I’ve worked to keep abreast of the fast-paced post-2015 negotiations. Having followed the aid effectiveness agenda through its latest incarnations from Paris to Busan, my point of reference into this discussion is how the post-2015 agenda can and is likely to support country ownership going forward. For quite some time, most of the discussions in practitioners’ circles have been broadly focused on the role of the aid and development effectiveness agenda in the post-2015 context – Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Financing for Development (FfD) included. Roughly speaking, the idea on the table was that the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC), established at the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4), would play a significant role in the implementation of the new agenda. The notion that the GPEDC could focus on the “how” of post-2015 was quite popular, until the moment differences over how and what effectiveness looks like re-emerged, following the lull in discussions ushered in by HLF4, where a shaky agreement on principles was made between traditional and non-traditional providers of development cooperation. At the same time, it also appeared clear that a more pertinent conversation should rather be about the impact of the FfD and SDGs negotiations on the effectiveness agenda and, in particular, whether or not the conferences in Addis Ababa and New York would generate new interest and the political space to revive efforts to improve the quality of development cooperation.

With just a few weeks to go before the first test of the post-2015 agenda in Addis Ababa, ActionAid is presenting a report on the current state of play on country ownership in post-2015 negotiations. The report seeks to unpack commitments to country ownership post-2015 by addressing three key questions:

To what extent is ownership being emphasised in the context of FfD and SDG discussions?
How is ownership understood in official documentation?
What concrete commitments have been made to ensure country ownership post-2015?

To address these questions, the report maps out and critically evaluates references to ownership in official documentation informing post-2015 negotiations against a framework based on available operational definitions of country ownership. It identifies where gaps exist, and where additional commitments may be needed to ensure country ownership of the emerging sustainable development agenda.

Perhaps one of its strongest contributions, in addition to the systematic review, is that the report broadens the interpretation of country ownership to go beyond aid and development effectiveness principles related to international public finance to include an assessment of “ownership enablers” – the national and global factors that enable countries to exercise ownership over development processes through, for example, less reliance on external financing and a stable global economic environment. The report broadens the conversation on ownership to examine systemic and country-level factors that help and hinder country ownership.

So what did the review find?

There are a number of important takeaways from this work. My initial attitude was fairly negative in the sense that I could not get any positive feeling from the draft conclusions for the Addis Ababa and New York conferences: there appeared not to be a real push to make sure that the effectiveness agenda could inform the new global partnership in its entirety. The principles of ownership, transparency and accountability, inclusiveness and focus on results appeared to be mostly relegated to discussions on international public finance. The reading this report offers tells a different story insomuch as it highlights that at least the notion of ownership is no longer confined to a niche (international public finance) – respect for country ownership appears in chapeau texts and as a general guiding principle for post-2015. Nevertheless, the presentation and strength of commitments to support the notion of country ownership vary across post-2015 texts, from the OWG proposal to the FfD drafts and the zero draft text for the New York Summit. The most advanced integration of the notion of country ownership as a key principle for post-2015, as articulated by the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing, has lost traction in the course of negotiations.

The report makes a number of important recommendations for the post-2015 negotiated outcomes.

Commit to create national sustainable development strategies (NSDS) to guide post-2015 implementation at the country level, including financing strategies where appropriate. All inputs into the post-2015 discussions have highlighted the centrality of NSDS for realising the SDGs at the country level – and the need for the international community to support national plans. Yet, none of the negotiated outcome texts actually include a commitment to prepare NSDS. Countries, particularly those that rely heavily on external financing, will need to demonstrate leadership in the preparation of NSDS through inclusive and participatory processes behind which the international community can align their efforts.

Ensure that commitment to country ownership is a central pillar of the SDG process, and broaden commitments related to ownership principles to go beyond international public finance. While negotiated outcome texts refer to respecting national priorities, capacities and circumstances, stronger language could be adopted to recognise the centrality of country ownership in the adoption, implementation and monitoring and review of post-2015 commitments. Explicit commitments to actions that give concrete expression to principles of country ownership, as well as reaffirming and strengthening existing commitments are also needed. This means including stronger and more explicit wording on the use of country systems as the default option in the implementation of the SDGs in the Addis Ababa Accord, and explicit commitments to alignment and the use of country systems, as well as broader principles of ownership in Transforming Our World by 2030.

Ensure broad country ownership post-2015. The concept of country ownership has evolved from referring largely to governments (particularly the executive) to include ownership by a wide range of national stakeholders over sustainable development processes, including parliamentarians, local and regional governments, civil society, the private sector and citizens. Negotiated outcomes should clearly articulate the importance of participation and inclusivity in the preparation of national sustainable development plans and financing strategies, implementation and monitoring and review processes.

Adopt and strengthen appropriate systems of follow-up and review, including strengthening mutual accountability at the country level. There is a need to ensure that the follow-up and review process includes a strong mechanism to take stock of specific commitments to capacity development, external financing and global reforms, monitor progress, identify gaps and promote accountability. Systems of mutual accountability at the country level need to be updated and strengthened to reflect post-2015 commitments going forward, including commitments to support country ownership over the agenda, align efforts to NSDS and financing strategies, and engage a wide range of stakeholders in implementation and review processes.

The role of national ownership in the post-2015 agenda will require ongoing efforts to understand, preserve and strengthen it. I hope this paper will keep the discussion moving forward.

This article was originally published in ActionAid:

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