‘Partnerships for Recovery’: COVID and Australian Aid

covid and Australian aid

23rd July 2020

The Minister for International Development and the Pacific wants to pivot the Australian aid program so that our region can emerge from the covid pandemic a ‘stable, prosperous, and resilient’ Indo-Pacific. Supporting our neighbours to tackle the health crisis is a must. But in every crisis, corruption thrives. Our aid program should keep good governance squarely in focus.

We are likely only scratching the surface of what implications covid could have for the developing world. Beyond immediate health and economic concerns, the pandemic will likely exacerbate global inequalities and encourage corrupt activity.

The World Bank predicts that up to 60 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty from the pandemic and shutdown of advanced economies.

We know that corruption has the most devastating impacts on marginalised communities and those living in poverty. It is often women and girls who suffer the most when money which is meant to be spent on essential services like schools, ends up in deep pockets. The pandemic will test the strength of institutions to combat bribery, fraud and corruption. The pandemic is also a great threat to progress towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

During a crisis such as covid, governments need to be FLEXIBLE with their aid budgets and policies.

This message was clear from Alex Hawke MP, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

Minister Hawke appeared as a guest on the Australian Council for International Development’s most recent briefing webinar, discussing the government’s new development policy. Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response outlines Australia’s approach to tackling the pandemic.

The Australian Government’s development strategy is focused on addressing the challenges of the virus, placing a clear priority on our near neighbours in the Pacific, Timor-Leste and Indonesia.

Read Transparency International’s analysis of the Corruption Perceptions Index score in the Asia Pacific region.

However, Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index Report highlighted that corruption continues to be a serious challenge in the region.

Timor-Leste ranked 93, Indonesia 85, Solomon Islands 77 and Vanuatu 64 in the 2019 Index.

If we are to support the emergence of a stable, prosperous, and resilient Indo-Pacific after the pandemic – the aim of the government’s strategy, then our development program must also prioritise tackling corruption.

3 priority areas to cushion against the immediate impacts of the covid crisis: Health Security, Stability and Economic Recovery.

It was clear from the webinar, that the government wants to take a collaborative approach to addressing the impacts in our region. Diplomacy, trade, economic and security initiatives will work towards shared objectives, taking a more coordinated view.

The government’s approach to pivot existing programs and partnerships to respond to COVID-19 must include prioritising anti-corruption efforts and good governance. This means strengthening transparent and accountable institutions and supporting civil society and grassroots organisations in their efforts to strengthen accountability.  It is encouraging that the government’s strategy has committed to investing in partner country efforts to tackle corruption and improve law and justice.

The strategy emphasises the government’s goal to take a multistakeholder approach. This involves a variety of partnerships with multilateral institutions, other nations, the private sector and civil society. (TIA’s mining programme has used this approached successfully)

The important role of the Infrastructure and Construction sectors in the covid recovery.

Building on Mr Hawke’s comments on the economic impacts of COVID-19, the strategy highlights the important role of The Australia Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP). The AIFFP was established by the government to provide grants and loans for vital infrastructure projects in Timor-Leste and the Pacific. The infrastructure and construction sectors are key to many governments’ stimulus packages aimed at promoting growth.

While this investment may be welcome for economic recovery, we are concerned that governments across the region may be tempted to fast track project design and approvals. This could include bypassing established regulatory oversight. TIA plans to undertake research on these areas to create an evidence base of the corruption risks in these sectors in a post-COVID world.

This state of emergency should not be taken as an opportunity to bypass transparency and accountability.

The coming months and years will be a real test of the effectiveness of Australia’s new development strategy.

We call on the government to ensure it balances the goal of economic recovery, whilst ensuring political decision-making is open, transparent and evidence based.

Consultation and participatory decision-making must be a priority, to insure against the risk of abuses of power. This is particularly important when many oversight and accountability processes have been disrupted. This is the only way to ensure that Australia and its neighbours emerge from the pandemic as a stable, prosperous, resilient region.

Photo credit: Ahnaf Tahsin Rafi on Unsplash