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Peru: the kingdom of the NGO?

By Enrique Alasino (12/02/2008) Working Paper
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Development aid represents only 0.7 percent of Peru’s GDP, but the country’s political, economic and administrative systems have moulded a unique relationship between foreign aid and domestic actors. An extremely presidential political system with a highly centralised public sector and years of conflict between political authorities and organised civil society have all proved to be major influences. The development aid sector, meanwhile, has formed its own spaces, channels and means for choosing where its resources should go.

Peru does not a national development strategy as defined by the Paris Declaration. However, in 2006 the government assumed a prominent role in efforts to achieve greater ownership of grant aid, mainly through the Peruvian Agency for International Technical Cooperation, the National Policy for International Technical Cooperation, and the law to reform government powers over private bodies. These processes symbolised the possible impact of aid harmonisation on democratisation.

Despite its technical merits, the national policy seemed only to reflect government thinking. And the law, which aimed for much-needed transparency, has been attacked for its alleged threat to civil society organisations’ freedom of action.

Photo courtesy of Heidi Smith

In this context, neither the government nor aid agencies have managed to reach agreement on the scope of the harmonisation agenda nor on the route to follow in its application. Widespread suspicion of government control, and a sense that the new aid instruments fail to match the fragmented and decentralised character of Peruvian poverty, have together paralysed the agenda.

Meanwhile, the ties between donors and NGOs have impeded the process of alignment between strategies and national systems, and thus undermined the possibilities for greater control by national regulators. At the same time, this style of aid delivery has provided opportunities to communities left behind by national development priorities, and has often reached areas where the state has no presence.

Given the conflicts between the government and NGOs, this is one instance in which the direct application of the Paris Agenda’s instruments could compromise human rights objectives over the long term.

Aid agencies must adapt their modes of intervention and their capacities to this new context. European development aid, which represents 35 percent of non-reimbursable aid flows and has a historically democratic orientation, has a special role to play in this process.

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