17 January 2014
Category : Interview
Interview with Gonzalo Robles Orozco. Secretary of International Cooperation
"We must help middle-income countries. 70% of poverty is there"
For Gonzalo Robles Orozco, this is a bittersweet moment to be heading the General Secretariat of International Cooperation for Development.The Spanish Cooperation Agency that he leads recently celebrated its anniversary at a time in which the crisis has required it to apply deep budget cuts. Even so, Robles has an upbeat appraisal. “The Agency arose modestly in a country that had been an aid recipient. Now we are an important stakeholder in worldwide cooperation. In every situation, we have delivered what was asked of us. We have a right to feel a certain logical satisfaction”, he pointed out.
With an undergraduate degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology and a graduate degree in Business Administration and Management from IESEP, Orozco is assuming the leadership of the Agency with a budget that been cut by 46% over the course of the legislature. A decrease in addition to the budget cuts already made by the Socialist government, he adds. Despite the criticism by social organizations of the cuts in Official Development Assistance, he believes that cooperation “is not going through a process different from that of other sectors”, such as education and health. “Spain today has certain economic conditions to meet, and if we didn’t do it, everyone in the country knows what would happen to us. There is a higher mandate, which is that we must meet our obligations to Europe”, he explained.
He does not accept the characterization of his management as one of “dismantling” this international policy as development NGOs have accused. He discreetly shifts in his office chair when he hears this and explains that he is not doing anything different from what his predecessors or the rest of the countries in the area have done. While it is true that other EU countries are cutting development assistance, Spain is the country that made the deepest cuts in 2012 (49%), followed by Italy (34%), Cyprus (26%), Greece (17%) and Belgium (11 %), according to data from the ‘Financing Development’ report published in 2013 by the European NGO Confederation.
For Orozco, the decrease in ODA does not mean, however, a loss of international importance, and he insists that he is a member of one of the United Nations working groups for preparing the sustainable development agenda for beyond 2015, when the current millennium development goals (MDG) expire. The economically crippled and diminished civil organizations of some countries where they work, where they have left programmes unfinished, do not share this opinion.
Question. Many NGOs are warning that with the cuts to Official Development Assistance, they will have to dismiss personnel and cancel projects. What would you tell them?
Answer. This needs to be explained. Cooperation is much more than grants to social organizations. Part of the problem is we haven’t known how to explain what a cooperation policy is. It includes multilateral, bilateral agreements with states, budgetary support to other countries, AIDS trust funds… And that civil society is one of the stakeholders. It’s true that the organizations are having a difficult time. But not because of this Government, which up to this year has religiously met all its acquired commitments. It’s true that the other source of financing, that of the self-governing communities and municipal governments, has undergone a very significant adjustment. The Government is not responsible for this; on the contrary, it’s the decentralized cooperation. The sum of what the self-governing communities owe to social organizations is a significant amount. Andalusia alone owes the NGOs 25 million euros.
Q. One of the working lines promoted in the current legislature is to involve the private sector in cooperation to raise funds. How much money and resources have Spanish companies contributed?
A. Spanish cooperation is very young in this area. There are only pilot experiences. In Mexico with Acciona, and other Latin American countries with the Telefónica Foundation. But really these projects have not become the general rule. What we have done is to create a protocol so that people understand what we want when we say that the private sector should come in. It isn’t, as has been said, privatization of development assistance, or us financing the private sector, but rather finding partnerships so that the participation of certain sectors leverages the development of countries, especially middle-income countries, which at this moment need a knowledge transfer. The first thing is to set up an office, then develop action guidelines, find examples among the best practices outside of Spain. And to stimulate companies and NGOs to look for partnerships. We’re trying to be a bridge with the countries we work with.
Q. So, you don’t have any data on the contribution of companies to development?
A. No, we don’t have that data.
Q. With less money, you can do fewer things. Where and in what sectors is Spain leaving a gap?
A. We are concentrating on fewer countries, but not only for budgetary reasons. This concentration is also by recommendation of the DAC [Development Assistance Committee] in its 2011 report. Comparing ourselves to our neighbouring countries, such as Germany or France, you just have to look to see that they are, more or less, in 25 countries. We were in 48. What we’re doing is to organize a responsible withdrawal, that is, not abandoning the country until all the projects are finished, and therefore it’s not immediate. This concentration process will last through this legislature, and at the end we will be in 23 countries. By sector, Spain was in practically all of them. We’ve selected eight major areas: strengthening the democratic state, human rights, basic social services, water and sanitation, food security… That is, fewer, but ones in which Spain can contribute specialization. By concentrating on geographic areas and sectors, we can better leverage our resources.
Q. Despite the drop in resources, in some Latin American countries, Morocco and Senegal, assistance has been maintained; what are the reasons why these countries are maintained and not others? What is the criterion?
A. In the first place, we’ve seen where we are contributing added value on top of other cooperation. For example, in Latin America, where if we leave there would be practically no other donor. We have certain strengths there that means, although other cooperation efforts exist, we would have a greater impact for historic reasons, language and a physical presence on the ground. We also take into account the Human Development Index compared to this impact. When your contribution, or that of cooperation in general, to the budget of the country represents 7 or 8% of GDP, that means it’s important. But if your contribution is 0.5 or 0.3 of GDP, really, even if you withdraw, absolutely nothing is going to happen in the country. By combining all these questions, we have selected certain countries. A map of cooperation in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia, Mozambique and the Philippines emerges.
New law in Honduras with our technical support
The new regulations, prepared with technical support from FIIAPP, will make it possible to institutionalize social dialogue in this Central American country.
On 9 January, the Economic and Social Council (ESC) Act was passed in a plenary session of the Honduran National Congress; it was ratified on Monday, 13 January. The regulation represents a new organizational and functional structure which will guarantee its stability and operating capacity through a legislative decree of constitution and an expanded and improved operating regulation for the ESC.
The most important points of this new regulation are the following:
1) The ESC will have an indefinite duration, a special labour system, and functional, technical, financial and administrative autonomy.
2) The opinions of the ESC may be taken into account prior to approval of draft laws.
3) It will be able to issue non-binding views and recommendations regarding draft laws.
4) The new structure includes the figure of a vice president and an Advisory Body.
The entire process was accompanied by advising and assistance from FIIAPP through the EUROsociAL programme and through different activities which included a visit by Honduran ESC representatives to the EU to learn the experiences of their counterparts in Spain and France, a comparative analysis of ESC regulations in the EU and Latin America, technical assistance from the Spanish ESC and a national workshop to raise awareness in Tegucigalpa, which included the presentation of the draft law to the President of the Republic of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo.
This support to the Honduran ESC is within the framework of the EUROsociAL “Strengthening dialogue mechanisms for building consensus for social cohesion” Action being coordinated by FIIAPP and which has an operational partner in the Spanish ESC.
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