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HOW WILL OEC/DAC PEER REVIEW AFFECT SWEDEN’S FUTURE CONTRIBUTIONS TO LIBERIA?

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Monrovia – The latest Peer Review of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has recommended that Sweden should develop guidance to help its oversees staff determine when it is appropriate to partner directly with partner country governments like Liberia, use country systems, and increase the share of aid that is recorded on budget.

Sweden was the most generous DAC donor in 2017, providing 1.02% of its gross national income as official development assistance (ODA), and is a leader in providing gender-focused aid, according to a new OECD report.

The report praises Sweden for being an active champion of the multilateral system, providing significant support to civil society organizations as an integral part of pursuing democratic space, and taking a multi-dimensional approach to poverty as part of its pledge to leave no one behind.

However, the latest DAC Peer Review notes that Sweden could do more to consolidate its policy priorities, allocate a higher share of ODA to priority countries, and ensure adequate staff capacity to deliver a growing and increasingly complex programme.

The report notes that Sweden should continue to ensure its development co-operation is guided by relevant and strategic independent evaluations in the early years following its inception, Sweden’s Expert Group for Aid Studies (EBA) produced a higher number of research overviews than independent evaluations.

Said the report: “Sweden re-articulated the mandate of the EBA in 2016 to encourage it to increase the number of independent evaluations it produced. While more evaluations are now being undertaken, they have been criticized for lacking relevance and impact. Steps are being taken by the Swedish government and the EBA to improve performance, and there have been improvements in the quality of evaluations.”

Liberia, which remains a highly aid-dependent country, despite a significant drop in the amount of official development assistance (ODA) it has received since 2015, received USD 621.6 million in net ODA in 2017, which was 43% less than it received in 2015. ODA makes up 33.5% of Liberia’s Gross National Income(GNI). The United States is the largest donor to Liberia and Sweden is the eighth-largest donor.

Liberia’s economy is highly dependent on providing foreign concessions in the agriculture, mining and forestry sectors, but gains are not being distributed to enable inclusive growth. The World Bank (2018) notes that 85% of young people, who make up two-thirds of Liberia’s population, are unemployed.

A peaceful transition of power in Liberia marks progress, but significant development challenges remain Liberia is a least developed, fragile and post-conflict country. Two brutal civil wars between 1989 and 2003, destroyed lives and vital infrastructure. Progress is being made, though, to rebuild the country.

In 2018, Liberia passed a milestone with the first peaceful and democratic transfer of political power in more than 70 years. The United Nations (UN) Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) also ended its presence in the country in 2018. However, despites these successes, Liberia faces significant development challenges. It is one of the poorest countries in the world with a gross national income (GNI) per capita in 2017 of USD 620, using the World Bank’s methodology. Liberia ranks 181st out of 189 countries on the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index (UNDP, 2018). More than half of the population (50.9%) lives below the national poverty line, with large geographical disparities in poverty (World Bank, 2018).

Sexual and gender-based violence is extremely high in Liberia – a legacy from the wars – with rape the second-most commonly reported serious crime (OHCHR, 2016). Liberia’s economy had been growing at over 5% between 2005 and 2013.

However, GDP growth rates fell sharply in 2014-15 as a result of the Ebola crisis and falling international commodity prices and have failed to pick up since, with the IMF estimating growth at 1.2% in 2018 and 0.4% in 2019 (IMF, 2019).

The DAC’s main findings and recommendations produce material of high quality and stressed that relevance should remain a priority for Sweden, given that the EBA is the only body tasked with evaluating the totality of Sweden’s bilateral and multilateral ODA.

The Swedish International Development Agency(Sida),  a government agency working on behalf of the Swedish government, with the mission to reduce poverty in the world, is mandated to provide independent strategic evaluations of Sida’s activities and support operational units in carrying out high-quality and reliable decentralized evaluations that tend to focus on single interventions.

The Evaluation Unit, according to the report, finalized three strategic evaluations in 2018, of which one was directly commissioned by the Evaluation Unit while the other two were commissioned by thematic departments. “There is scope for Sida to reflect on whether its Evaluation Unit has an appropriate balance between strategic and decentralized evaluations.”

The report recommends that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Sida should continue to assess whether their policies and programmes are being consistently informed by relevant and independent strategic evaluations. “Sweden needs to address ongoing challenges Sweden’s broad policy framework requires consolidation and synergies among its numerous strategies could be better exploited Previous peer reviews have recommended that Sweden establish a single framework that clearly sets out its policy priorities.”

Sweden’s 2016 Policy Framework for Swedish Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Assistance establishes a coherent policy framework. This framework, Sweden’s second since the last peer review, according to the report, still struggles to provide a clear hierarchy of priorities, however. Its five perspectives and eight thematic priorities, which include new policy priorities, make for a broad policy vision.”

The framework is accompanied by 63 strategies – 6 regional, 25 country, 13 global thematic and 19 relating to multilateral co-operation – that set out in more detail how Sweden will meet its policy objectives in a given area/country over a given period and, in most cases, are accompanied by a budget envelope.

The report adds that while these numerous strategies individually are aligned to the policy framework, connections among strategies are not being exploited sufficiently. “For instance, there is no systematic approach to information sharing to ensure that the owners of global thematic strategies, who are based in Sida’s geographic departments, have an overview of activities undertaken within their policy area that are funded through country strategies. Nor do country-level staff necessarily have an overview of how global thematic strategies are being operationalized in their country or region.”

As a result, the report states, Sweden is not able to fully exploit the synergies among its strategies which could improve programme impact and it is difficult to ensure consistent and coherent programming.

The report also recommended that Sweden should consolidate its existing policy framework to allow staff to build up skills and knowledge in the newly-identified areas and to enable time for implementation and that Sweden should establish a systematic approach to sharing information on the activities undertaken through its existing strategies to better capitalize on synergies.

The DAC’s main finding and recommendations concluded that Sweden’s development co-operation still lacks geographical concentration although Sweden has managed to reduce the number of its partner countries since the 2013 peer review to 35 from 44, its aid programmed remains thinly spread geographically compared to those of other DAC members. Sweden is a long-term and valued partner to multilateral organizations and civil society Sweden is a champion of multilateralism and provides long-term core funding to its priority multilateral organizations, including its United Nations humanitarian partners. It works with other donors to support improvements to the effectiveness of the multilateral system and plays an active role on the governing boards of multilateral organizations, advocating for gender equality, human rights and the environment. Sweden is a highly-appreciated partner for CSOs and provided almost one-third of its ODA to and through civil society in 2017, most of this to non-Swedish CSOs.

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