Skip to main content

Technical cooperation must be reformed, says head of UN development agency

Technical cooperation must be reformed, says head of UN development agency

Technical cooperation - the practice of building institutions in developing countries through the use of advisors and consultants - must be reformed by allowing recipients to choose what expertise to get from where, according to the head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Speaking to over 50 participants at a roundtable in Geneva, UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown stressed the importance for recipient countries to be allowed to choose which type of technical cooperation is best for them, drawing on models the world over.

The week-long meeting, which wrapped up last Friday, was organized by UNDP and the World Bank Institute as part of a year-long study aimed at developing proposals for reforming technical cooperation.

At the roundtable, the Deputy Director General of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jan Boer, emphasized the importance of "untying" development assistance from donor countries and stressed the difference between "doing things right" and "doing the right things." The former, he said, may mean "doing the wrong things efficiently," while the latter includes putting an end to "doing the wrong things, such as donor countries insisting on the use of their own experts on projects they support."

The Dutch Government, which supports the study on reforming technical cooperation, is the first donor to "untie" technical assistance. Recipient governments are no longer required to use Dutch experts and equipment and can choose freely where to procure services needed.

Among the concerns raised by participants were the excessive reliance on expatriate consultants, reports by foreign experts that fail to reflect local realities, poaching of skilled people from national institutions, and the failure of many technical cooperation efforts to create sustainable local institutions. Another problem was that technical cooperation often bypasses parliamentary scrutiny and budgetary procedures in recipient countries.

Participants proposed various ways of improving technical cooperation, including through South-South cooperation between developing countries, which often offers solutions better adapted to local conditions at a fraction of the cost.