Harper emphasizes accountability in foreign aid

    By Steven Edwards, Postmedia News September 21, 2010

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during the Millennium Development Goals Summit at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 21, 2010.

Photograph by: Mike Segar, Reuters

UNITED NATIONS — Prime Minister Stephen Harper adopted a schoolmasterly tone as he addressed the UN’s development conference Tuesday, telling world leaders the debate is off cue.

Amid claims by numerous leaders of the developing world that rich countries are not doing enough to help them, Harper signalled the focus of the conference should be on the efficiency of aid dollars.

“At this summit, our discussions should be less about new agreements than accountability for existing ones,” he said. “Less about lofty promises than real results. Less about narrow self-interest in sovereignty’s name, than an expanded view of mutual interest in which there is room for all to grow and prosper.”

The approach is risky at a time when Canada is campaigning for a seat on the UN Security Council, the world organization’s most powerful body.

Developing countries make up a significant portion of the 192-member General Assembly, which will next month choose from Canada, Germany and Portugal to fill two Security Council spots reserved for Western countries throughout 2011 and 2012.

In a more conventional gesture, Harper also announced an increase in the Canadian contribution to the Global Fund to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in poor countries.

Figures released by the government show Canada will make an added commitment of $540 million, bringing its total contribution to more than $1.5 billion — the largest ever made by Canada to an international health institution.

The aid announcement contrasted with an absence of a similar gesture in the speech of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who spoke earlier. Merkel nevertheless also took a tough line, laying down strict ground rules for developing countries seeking Germany’s help.

But Canada is also seen as being under more pressure than Germany — the third-largest contributor to the UN budget after the United States and Japan — to do all it can to secure votes in its Security Council campaign.

Portugal will speak Wednesday, the final day of the three-day conference.

Calling for accountability has long been part of the general narrative of developed countries at the UN, but the world body has made little progress in codifying the concept other than by issuing hoped-for “benchmarks” for this project or that.

The Harper government, meanwhile, already claims success in making “accountability” a key part of issuing foreign aid commitments when Canada hosted the G8 industrialized countries this year.

Harper outlined that initiative during his address at this summit, which is focused on the progress made toward achieving eight development goals that emerged in response to promises made at the UN’s 2000 Millennium summit.

“Canada introduced a new tool to measure aid effectiveness,” Harper told the gathering of leaders and representatives of almost 140 countries. “For the first time, an aid accountability report was presented to G8 leaders. Leaders agreed to this, because, we all know, it’s not enough for nations to make promises; we must get results; we must all be held accountable.”

Aid groups said the accountability system is a bigger test for the donor countries.

“Now with the accountability system that was introduced in Canada at the G8, the most powerful countries in the world will have to stick to the commitments they make,” said Dave Toycen, president and CEO of World Vision Canada and a member of the Canadian ministerial delegation for the summit. “Now is the test.”

Merkel signalled that countries qualifying for German help are those that promote a market economy, promote small business and take steps to strengthen rural areas.

She also said countries must practise good governance and display respect for human rights.

“Germany sees its role in development co-operation as a partnership supporter of countries’ own efforts within a broad-based partnership,” Merkel said.

“We in Germany know where our strengths lie, but we also know our limits. It is obvious that global problems call for global efforts.”

Still, Canada demonstrated its own level of confidence Tuesday by boycotting the morning speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Canada has for years successfully led an annual effort to have the General Assembly back a censure of Iran over the Islamic republic’s human rights record.

While the measure has always passed, Iran musters sizable minority opposition to it — raising the potential for those countries to react to Canada’s boycott by withholding their support for Canada in the Security Council vote.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon led the boycott after arriving at the UN ahead of Harper.

“Past speeches by the Iranian President in (the) UN have contained elements of Holocaust denial, anti-Semitism, and condemnation of Israel,” said Cannon. “Canada believes that this type of behaviour violates the UN’s spirit of international co-operation, and we have chosen not to engage with President Ahmedinejad in this forum.”

In his speech Tuesday, Ahmedinejad made no direct mention of Israel, but spoke in terms that some analysts suggested was an oblique reference to Jews, the West or both.

“The most serious problems of the past millennia were derived from the inhumane and infected creeds accompanied by unfair and cruel managements,” Ahmedinejad said.

Harper will return to the UN Thursday to address the world body on the opening day of the UN annual debate — delivering a speech on the same day as U.S. President Barack Obama.

The General Assembly is to elect five countries in all to serve for the next two years on the 15-member Security Council, the UN’s most powerful body. Canada last served on the council throughout 1999 and 2000.

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

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