Published : 2013-02-01 20:44
Updated : 2013-02-01 20:44
A recent review by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee suggested a set of recommendations for enhancing Korea’s official aid, while appreciating the country’s increasing influence in the field of international development cooperation.
Seoul was asked to increase grants and untied assistance for less developed and heavily indebted nations. In the first peer review of Korea since it became a DAC member in 2010, the group also called on the country to formulate a unified strategy for official development assistance and set up a coherent system to implement it. The committee, which comprises 24 major donor nations in the northern hemisphere, further recommended that Korea secure appropriate staff for effective aid management and enhance the transparency and accountability of assistance policies.
Korean aid officials need to pay heed to the recommendations so that they can be more efficient and instrumental in helping with development efforts in the less fortunate parts of the world. Certainly, the country should expand assistance to be commensurate with its status as the world’s 15th-largest economy and seventh-biggest exporter. The increased aid will raise the need for a more efficient system and more competent personnel to carry it out.
But the nation may not have to blindly follow the DAC suggestions. As the only country that has been transformed from an aid recipient to a donor since the end of World War II, Korea is in a position to work out and implement its own methods to help less developed nations get out of poverty and achieve modernization.
In this context, many officials here may find it difficult to agree with the view that Seoul’s aid is being overly donor-oriented in the establishment and implementation of a Korean ODA model. What is important will be how to maximize the effect of development assistance through diverse mixtures of programs tailored to meet specific needs of recipients.
It would not be an overstatement to say Korea is better positioned than any other country to offer such aid projects. The DAC review noted that Korea is perceived by many developing countries as a source of development knowledge and ideas based on its actual experiences. Its postwar economic ascent can give more inspiration to people struggling to lift themselves out of poverty. Compassion and consideration shown by Koreans toward them may lead to building a strong emotional bond beyond the simple, soulless relationship between a donor and a recipient.
The country should expand its ODA more drastically and rapidly to make the best use of such advantages and become a true partner with developing countries in moving toward co-prosperity.
In recent years, Korea has been steadily increasing its aid volume. Its net ODA volume rose from $1.174 billion in 2010 to $1.716 billion last year. But the ratio of ODA to gross national income remained around 0.12 percent for two consecutive years since 2010, far lower than the DAC average of 0.31 percent. The government has pledged to raise the ratio to 0.25 percent by 2015. But it would still be insufficient to establish Korea as an exemplary donor country. As planned by the transition team of President-elect Park Geun-hye, whose term begins on Feb. 25, the ratio should be pushed up to the average of DAC members.
Korean ODA also needs qualitative improvement. In 2010, loans accounted for 39 percent of the total bilateral aid offered by the country, far above the DAC average of 15 percent. Seoul aims to expand the untied ODA ratio up to 75 percent. But even if it achieves the goal, the figure will still be lower than the DAC members’ average rate, which remains at 84 percent, let alone the OECD-recommended rate of untied aid of 89 percent.
It would be ideal for most ODA to be provided in untied grants. But tied aid may not be necessarily undesirable. For a country like Korea with heavy reliance on trade, it can be somewhat inevitable to connect foreign aid to economic cooperation. If implemented after thorough preparation, the plan for sending about 10,000 trained youths abroad to help manage aid projects could lead to reducing youth unemployment and ensuring effective ODA management.
In any case, the important thing is to keep and enhance the spirit of sharing what Korea has achieved with other countries struggling to overcome difficulty, and usher in a bright future for their peoples.