Review keeps development agency on its toes
Swiss development policy is currently being closely scrutinised by the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD).
The peer review, which is undertaken every four to five years, is expected to call for more money for overseas aid, as well as more focused spending.
The review is being carried out by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) - a forum where the OECD’s 23 members discuss development policies and mutually assess each other.
This year, Norwegian and New Zealand experts are examining the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). The results will be reported back on June 30.
A delegation of DAC experts has already visited Switzerland and is also carrying out field surveys in Vietnam and Bosnia-Herzegovina, two of the countries where the SDC runs humanitarian aid projects.
"It’s very important to be under the scrutiny of partners on the donor side, as we very often work together in multilateral organisations or in the field," said Serge Chappatte, vice-director in charge of development policy and multilateral cooperation at the SDC.
Chappatte said that the recommendations contained in the report, although not binding, would "set a direction" that the SDC would have to follow.
The Swiss are hoping to build on the previous peer review from 2000, which while giving the SDC overall good marks, found there were still several areas that needed improving.
One of its biggest criticisms was that the amount of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) spent on overseas aid by the Swiss was too low. This figure currently stands at 0.39 per cent.
Chappatte admits that this point will probably be repeated this year, especially as other countries are fast closing in on the United Nations’ recommended target of 0.7 per cent of GDP.
"A lot of countries, such as the Scandinavians, have already reached 0.7 per cent or even one per cent...so the reviewers say how can a rich country like Switzerland not give more than 0.39 per cent?" said Chappatte.
SDC director Walter Fust recently called for more funding to raise the percentage to 0.4 per cent, a target that Switzerland is supposed to reach by 2010.
But Chappatte says that until the state budget situation improves and there is the political will, the amount is not likely to change.
In any case, 0.4 per cent is only a temporary solution, says Chappatte, who hopes that the figure will eventually reach the same levels as in other industrialised countries.
The DAC experts also said that Swiss aid was dispersed between too many countries - 27 in 2000 - "reducing its effectiveness and impact."
"We’ve been doing a lot to try to concentrate activities in a number of countries, but probably this time they will feel that we still haven’t done enough," Chappatte told swissinfo.
The report also pointed to a lack of coherence between aid and other policies, such as trade, which have an impact on aid recipients.
One success story has been the SDC’s evaluation system, which came in for heavy criticism in the 2000 report for not being independent enough. Chappatte said that, as a result, the SDC decided to change its system to include external evaluations of its activities.
"Other members have said that Switzerland has done a lot to improve its evaluation and controlling system in these five years," he added.
However Chappatte says there will always be one point over which the DAC team and the Swiss disagree – the fact that there are two offices in Switzerland dealing with development cooperation, the SDC (87 per cent of aid in 2000) and State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (13 per cent).
The policy was criticised in 2000 as having no common operational strategy, leading to "a number of overlaps and contradictions."
The report noted that this dual approach was nevertheless seen as a big advantage in Switzerland.
Chappatte says that despite some expected criticisms, the SDC will again receive good marks in this year’s peer review. He also hopes that the report will stimulate debate on development aid issues in Switzerland.
swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson
The SDC is responsible for development activities, cooperation with Eastern Europe and humanitarian aid.
It employs a staff of 550 in Switzerland and abroad.
Its annual budget is SFr1.3 billion ($1.13 billion) (2004).
In 2006 it will conduct a peer review of the United States along with Canada.
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