Recognizing the important role that parliaments and parliamentarians play in effective development cooperation, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have recently released a set of guidelines that identify concrete ways in which parliamentarians can ensure resources and partnerships are used in the most effective way possible to ensure the SDGs and their targets are met by 2030.

In this Q&A, we talk with Mr. Martin Chungong, the Secretary-General of the IPU to learn more about the guidelines and their purpose, as well as to understand why strong engagement from parliamentarians is crucial for more effective development cooperation over the next decade and beyond.

What is the rationale for these guidelines and why are they so timely?

We only have ten years left to implement the SDGs. If we are to make this happen, we need stronger development cooperation. Agenda 2030 is ambitious but it is also absolutely essential for the well-being of people across the globe. Ensuring the rights of people to a decent life and a healthy environment has become even more urgent in the wake of COVID-19. However, to achieve the SDGs, significantly more resources, more effective spending of those resources, as well as stronger development partnerships are needed. This is why effective development cooperation is critical in making Agenda 2030 a reality.

Parliaments’ legislative, budgetary and oversight functions, must be made to further development cooperation, for example by holding governments accountable on how resources are spent. Yet, the engagement of parliamentarians in development cooperation, particularly in terms of parliamentary oversight, has often been weak. These guidelines aim to help address this gap by providing parliamentarians with an understanding of key development cooperation concepts and elements, both financial and non-financial, and identify concrete ways parliamentarians can ensure resources and partnerships are used in the most effective way possible to make the 2030 Agenda a reality.

Why are these guidelines useful for parliamentarians?

Many parliamentarians still understand development cooperation as foreign aid, that is aid coming from abroad only. In reality, development cooperation has greatly evolved over the years and become increasingly complex. It now includes not only foreign aid, but also assistance that governments and other actors, including civil society, local authorities and the private sector provide, for example through development efforts funded through a country’s own tax revenue and private investments.

These guidelines are meant to help parliamentarians understand the complexity of development cooperation and learn how they can contribute to more effective development. They provide a solid foundation for parliamentarians, both those who are new to development cooperation and those who are already engaged in the topic, to take more concerted action and ensure more effective and transparent use of resources for development. The guidelines also include a chapter on the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC), the global multi-stakeholder actor committed to increasing development effectiveness. They explain how parliamentarians can engage with the Partnership in their respective countries as well as globally.

What are some of the most important and relevant development cooperation topics for parliamentarians covered in the guidelines?

The guidelines cover a large number of important topics, from the basic architecture of effective development cooperation to opportunities for global-level engagement. While all of the topics are relevant, parliamentarians may find certain topics particularly interesting. For example, although current levels of foreign aid, about $140 billion USD per year, are not enough to help developing countries achieve the SDGs, it is still an important source of support for low-income countries, accounting for up to half of the state budget in some cases. The guidelines review the main issues parliamentarians need to be mindful of when overseeing this kind of aid. It also reminds parliamentarians that, with a few notable exceptions, rich countries on average are only spending half of the official commitment of 0.7% of GDP. If the commitment is to be maintained, then traditional aid could make an even bigger difference.

Furthermore, there is a growing reliance on public-private partnerships (PPPs) that many developed countries and international financial institutions see as key for mobilizing private sector finance for development. The guidelines explain what these PPPs are and discusses the potential challenges that MPs may need to be aware of before they sign off on a new partnership. In fact, the guidelines note that many PPP contracts are often negotiated by governments without the parliament’s knowledge or with only scant opportunity for parliamentary oversight provided. Many of those contracts commit the government to assume potential liabilities that may end up costing the public purse down the road. Parliaments need to be aware of the opportunity costs involved in PPPs and their potential budget implications.

What can parliamentarians do in response to these guidelines?

The guidelines provide several recommended actions that parliamentarians can take within their own parliaments to help improve the quality and the quantity of development cooperation. I hope that the guidelines will encourage parliamentarians to organize debates and hearings in their parliaments on development cooperation, to ask each other questions and jointly learn more about this topic.

While there are many things parliamentarians can do within their own parliaments, there are also several things they can do outside parliaments such as joining national coordination structures and roundtables together with the other partners of development cooperation. Recent surveys have shown that many national dialogues and decision-making processes on development cooperation do not include parliamentarians. It is imperative that parliamentarians take a stronger role in these conversations, including by making the voices of their constituents heard, and exercising more robust parliamentary oversight.

The IPU, working with UN partners such as UNDP, stands ready to provide more information and assist those parliaments where capacities for development cooperation oversight may be lacking in some ways to promote accountable, inclusive, and transparency governance for stronger development outcomes.

Download the full IPU-UNDP Guidelines for enhancing the engagement and contribution of parliaments to effective development cooperation.