Normative aspect: B
Final mark: B
On the ground, the development agenda grappled with long-standing systemic problems: sectoral and geographical fragmentation, underfunding, and a lack of coherence with “non-development” policies. Nevertheless, the decision on a gradual, albeit cautious, increase in the overall budget for development cooperation and the plan to cut the number of sectoral priorities is a step in the right direction. The start of work on decentralisation of the Czech Development Agency by deploying workers to priority countries is equally positive. The ongoing formulation of a new concept of bilateral and multilateral cooperation provides a good opportunity for further changes.
The past year in Czech development cooperation (DC) and humanitarian aid can be characterised by reflecting on past activities – stemming, in particular, from an evaluation conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – and promising conceptual changes. However, actual practice remained very similar to previous years, which delivered stability, but also resulted in a continuation of long-term systemic problems. These included sectoral and geographical fragmentation and a relatively large share of granted funds being tied to Czech intermediaries, which pushed up administrative costs and eroded the effectiveness of assistance. Furthermore, there has been little success so far in linking FDC with other sectors of foreign and domestic policy.
In accordance with policy documents, the Czech Republic spent more than one per mille of gross national income (GNI) on FDC last year. Bilateral cooperation centred primarily on Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Ethiopia, and on the “hard” sectors of water supply, sanitation, agriculture, and energy. Although the volume of humanitarian assistance remained limited, just as in previous years, the extra attention paid to the humanitarian crises in Syria and Iraq – which is where roughly half of all resources went – is definitely commendable. Contributions to another 20 countries were essentially symbolic; arguably, a more intensive focus on a smaller number of judiciously chosen priorities would have made this assistance more effective.
Commitments that should be making themselves felt in Czech DC in the near future augur well. In particular, there is a plan to increase the volume of assistance to 0.17% of GNI by 2020. This should be achieved by staged increases in the budget by CZK 100 million per year over the next three years. This move will particularly make sense if it becomes a spring board for further systematic budget rises. To date, the Czech Republic has been one of the least generous donors within the OECD. After failing to honour its commitment to spend 0.33% of GNI on DC in 2015, the government again pledged to increase the volume of its assistance by 2030. Considering the humanitarian needs around the world today, the current plan to use almost half the scheduled annual increase in resources for humanitarian purposes appears felicitous.
The plan to target development cooperation at six priority countries instead of the current eleven from 2018 indicates another positive change. The deployment of the Czech Development Agency’s workers to partner countries, which began last year in Ethiopia and is set to continue in the coming year, gives grounds for hope that the Agency will integrate more closely with local players and that the relevance and effectiveness of individual interventions will be enhanced. The new DC strategy document to be adopted this year should – in addition to further practical changes – make it possible to disengage DC from its current discursive entanglement with migration restrictions, which was used to justify development cooperation again this year. This link, palpable even on a pan-European level, exists for purely self-serving purposes and clouds progress towards a more constructive migration approach and a suitable concept of development cooperation and humanitarian aid based on partnership and global responsibility.