Understanding Global Dynamics to Deliver a 21st Century Development Policy: A Challenge to New Zealand

Kevin P Clements


In last week’s blog I was critical of the ways in which NZ business was driving New Zealand’s Aid and Development Policy. It is clear to me, and other people who have worked on the sociology, politics and economics of development, that while business has an important role to play in growth and development , it should not be taking a lead role, especially not in small and largely subsistence economies in the South West Pacific.

There are a number of reasons why New Zealand’s Foreign Minister has been able to steam roll his NZ INC agenda over a more developmentally sensitive agenda.

The first is that New Zealand Aid is now primarily serving New Zealand’s foreign policy interests rather than the interests of  our development partners.

The second is that many of the people with real development expertise either left the Ministry or were made redundant as NZAID was reincorporated into Foreign Affairs. The development   advisors in MFAT either do not have the breadth or depth of experience available to NZAID or their experience is discounted in current development policy formation. There is also a  politically induced climate of fear and intimidation within the   NGO development community which means that there is no major opposition to the neo -liberal orthodoxy

The third and probably major reason is that the Foreign Minister is focused on the export of NZ skills, expertise and business opportunities and is not paying attention to all of the debates and discussions that are taking place multilaterally at the United Nations, in the EU and other parts of the world.

To state that “The Purpose of New Zealand’s aid is to develop shared prosperity and stability in our region and beyond, drawing on the best of New Zealand’s knowledge and skills” is not a development objective.   It is a statement of neo-colonial and neo-liberal intent . We are not working with partners to serve their agendas we are working with them to serve our own agenda. We are all interested in prosperity and stability but the best way to achieve this in the Pacific, in the poorest countries of ASEAN and in Africa is to focus first on grappling with climate change, diminishing inequality, delivering good governance and focusing on the poorest of the poor to ensure that   poverty is eradicated.

We are not going to develop a more robust development policy until we start thinking about the negative dynamics that are really challenging the world community at the present time. We won’t know what these are unless we are actively participating in all the major multilateral conferences focused on the global development agenda.

In the first instance, as the Nepalese earthquake has demonstrated, we need to spend much more time and attention on Disaster Risk Reduction. The Sendai Summit on DRR mapped out an agenda that we need to address if we are to develop more resilient, adaptive and robust communities. This is a development problem of major importance. These all too frequent natural or man made disasters consume huge amounts of emergency and humanitarian funding assistance and   leave less real funding for long term development aid. Little in New Zealand’s development policy is focused on disaster risk reduction. Natural and man made disasters always bear far too heavily on the poorest of the poor who lack the resources and infrastructure necessary to deal with them.

Second, New Zealand as a relatively affluent country is spending far too little on development assistance. When I was a student in the 1960s I coordinated a national campaign called 1% Action for International Development. This was an effort to see if New Zealand could start making some real progress towards the 1% GDP development target that had been agreed by the United Nations. Forty years on New Zealand is nowhere near this target . Our ODA stands at 0.27% of our GDP. This is pathetically small for a country as wealthy as NZ. The Third International Conference on Financing for Development will be held on 13-16 July 2015, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This will be a chance for all the wealthy nations of the world to meet with the less wealthy to seek agreement on how to reduce global inequalities. It is important that New Zealand establishes a clear timetable in advance of this meeting indicating how we move from 0.27 to something like 0.7% and even 1.0% of GDP. If we do not move in this direction we severely discredit our development credentials. It is vital for both historical reasons and as an act of international solidarity with those who lack our resources that we make a more enthusiastic commitment to overseas development.

Third, we need to focus much more attention on the Sustainable Development Goals which have been developed to replace the Millennium Development Goals   at the end of this year. The SDGs are transformational in addressing poverty AND inequality; in placing the pursuit of peaceful and inclusive societies based on inclusive and accountable governments and access to justice firmly on the development agenda, at looking at means and ends (social ends and economic and governance means), and requiring conscious integration of environmental sustainability. Our Government is showing absolutely no interest in promoting this agenda. If we do not, we will essentially subvert all the claims we made in our campaign for the Security Council about representing the interests of the small, medium sized states and peoples. These were the states who voted so enthusiastically for us. But more importantly we won’t really have any voice at the table if we do not graft these objectives into our own Development agenda.

Finally, none of this will be of any utility unless we grapple with   climate change decisively. We have to lead by example, on this issue. The best way of dealing with natural disaster risk reduction is by thinking holistically about the relationship between climate change, inundation, and earthquakes etc . Our government has itshead in the sand on most of these issues.

The point is that   have to think in terms of what my old mentor, Elise Boulding, called a 200 year present. There are people alive today who were born a hundred years ago. We need to learn from their wisdom and experience. There are children being born today who will live a hundred years into the future. If they are to have a lively future, we have to make sure that decisions taken today are not irreversible. This requires paying much more attention than   ever before to world’s largest ever youth generation. Our New Zealand government thinks in terms of tomorrow rather than a 100 years from now. It is not investing in women or youth in New Zealand or in the Pacific and its making many harmful irreversible decisions about fishing resources, agricultural development etc. This will not generate a demographic dividend for the next generation it will saddle them with multiple liabilities.

Its time for the NZ government to wake up and become much more aware of how it/we can make developmentally positive and conflict sensitive decisions that will really guarantee peace and stability in our part of the world and in the world as a whole.

I see nothing from this current Minister of Foreign Affairs or the Prime Minister which indicate that they really do understand global dynamics and how to position New Zealand so that its on the progressive rather than the negative side of history.