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Issue 15
August 30, 2003

•Local Communities and International Cooperation

•An Appeal for Local-Level Perspectives on the ODA Charter

•The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and Local Communities


Local Communities and International Cooperation

by Toshihiro Menju, Chief Program Officer, JCIE

This month's GrassNet deals with the topic of "local communities and international cooperation" and includes articles contributed by representatives of the Economic Research Institute for Northeast Asia and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC). The nature of international cooperation has been undergoing a shift. In the past, international cooperation was an activity carried out by a limited group of actors consisting of governments and specific types of experts, but now, a variety of actors are entering the field, including NGOs, local governments, and even domestic-oriented NPOs. In some cases, participation in an overseas study tour or interaction with trainees or other individuals from developing countries have prompted NPOs involved in environmental or educational issues to initiate international cooperation programs.

Until now, the distinction between "international" and "domestic" has served as an impediment to the growth of international exchange and international cooperation in Japanese society. For those engaged in domestic activities in Japan, this distinction has been perceived as a large barrier to their entry into the international arena, but this barrier is gradually shrinking. Similarly, those engaged in international activities are now turning their attention to domestic social issues and are becoming more sharply attuned to the issues of shared concern between local communities in developing countries and in Japan. If international-oriented organizations and domestic-oriented organizations can come together to identify their common needs and build a mutually beneficial relationship, international cooperation initiated at the local level will undoubtedly gain even greater vitality and effectiveness.


An Appeal for Local-Level Perspectives on the ODA Charter

by Hitoshi Yoshida, Visiting Researcher, Economic Research Institute for Northeast Asia (ERINA)

(Note: This article has been slightly condensed.)

Ongoing Revision of the ODA Charter

Japan's Official Development Aid (ODA) Charter, aimed at increasing the transparency of ODA, set forth the principles and objectives that served as the foundation for Japan's aid policy for 10 years. The approximately three-page charter succinctly spells out six areas of ODA policy, including the basic principles, objectives, and priorities.

The ODA Charter was created by the Miyazawa Cabinet in 1992. At the time, it was the focus of much discussion, as it summarized Japan's basic ODA principles for the first time in the 40-year history of Japanese ODA. These principles include the tandem pursuit of environmental conservation and development, the avoidance of the use of ODA for military purposes or for aggravation of international conflicts, and the promotion of democratization and market-oriented economies. Now, this ODA charter is undergoing review, and the revision process has been steadily proceeding with the aim of submitting the revised draft for Cabinet approval at the end of August this year.

Impact on Regional Activities

Why should local organizations involved in international cooperation care about the ODA Charter? The first reason is its importance with respect to policymaking. The Japanese government has been formulating a pyramid of policies based on this charter, including the Mid-Term Policy on ODA, carried out over five years; country-specific policies; and annual plans related to specific aid organizations. In other words, the ODA Charter represents an extremely important document that has provided the overall framework for Japan's ODA.

The second reason has to do with the impact on localities. The current charter review has budgetary implications for local NGOs and local government entities. Currently, regional governments allocate approximately 7-8 billion yen of funds, such as local allocation taxes, toward international cooperation expenses. This amount is comparable to the budgets for international cooperation of small, developed countries. For example, it is equivalent to approximately half of the total amount allocated by the Australian government toward international cooperation. However, it is inevitable that the local allocation tax will be abolished and reserve funds(?) reduced as a result of local structural reforms. In that event, it is highly likely that the budget for international cooperation will be the first item to be reevaluated, as it does not directly affect the lives of local citizens. If the ODA budget of local government entities does not grow, the international cooperation activities run by local NGOs that receive funding from regional and local government entities naturally will decrease dramatically. This situation raises important questions regarding how regional governments will be treated in the ODA Charter and whether the ODA budgets of local governments will be maintained or expanded.

The third reason concerns the fact that the international cooperation activities of regional governments are tied to citizen welfare, as they directly target the citizens of developing countries. Currently, Japan's regional governments are carrying out transfers of technology and knowledge according to each respective region's field of activity, such as environmental conservation, healthcare, and industrial technology. There is an extremely strong demand among developing countries for increased cooperation in this area. The enhancement of local governments' role in ODA will not simply benefit local governments but also greatly contribute to the improvement of the lives of citizens of developing countries. Essentially, local government participation in ODA fits very well with the goals of ODA reform, but this does not necessarily mean that it is being given sufficient consideration under the current review.

The Review Status

The revised draft of the Official Development Charter currently posted on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website very weakly addresses the issue of the diversification of players in the field of official development assistance, which relates to local-level entities involved in international cooperation. When you compare this document with the "Review of Japan's Official Development Assistance Charter" issued by the Council of Overseas Economic Cooperation-Related Ministers on March 14, it appears that this item has been de-emphasized over the past few months. The former document had listed this item in the introduction as one of the four major changes in the circumstances surrounding ODA in recent years.

In the current draft, this issue is mentioned in only two places—under "2.(5) Partnership and collaboration with the international community" in the section titled "I. Philosophy: Objectives, Policies, and Priorities" and under "1.(6) Collaboration with aid-related entities" in the section titled "III. Formulation and Implementation of ODA Policy." Unfortunately, in these two sections, the issue is presented in a single sentence that simply mentions the different players within a list. For example, the relevant sentence in the second section reads, "Collaboration with Japanese NGOs, universities, local governments, economic organizations, labor organizations, and other related stakeholders will be strengthened to facilitate their participation in ODA and to utilize their technologies and expertise." The first section does not even mention local governments.

Suggestions Based on a Local-Level Perspective

(1) The Role of Citizens in ODA

"Public involvement in international cooperation" is a concept that has frequently been discussed in the context of ODA reform. Unfortunately, these discussions have never addressed the question of whether citizens represent the doer or receiver with regard to ODA. If the word "official" in the phrase "official development assistance" is interpreted as "central government," then citizens represent the receiver. If, however, "official" is interpreted to mean "public," then it encompasses local governments that rely on taxes as a source of funds, as well as NGOs, corporations, universities, and other entities that receive public funding. Such an interpretation would imply that citizens are the "doers."

This distinction can also be made with regard to the objectives of ODA. In the former case, the efficient implementation of foreign policy by the central government represents the main goal. In the latter case, however, it is possible to add the strengthening of international cooperation within Japan as a whole as the ultimate goal. While the trend in the global community is toward the latter scenario, Japan's stance remains ambiguous.

(2) Developing Frameworks for Implementing Aid

If "official" means "public," then it is crucial that frameworks for providing aid are separately established for each player, including local governments, NGOs, and corporations, in order to actively promote the diversification of players in the field of ODA. In this case, however, local governments may face some difficulty. Currently, local governments deal on a domestic level with the issues of environmental conservation, education, and poverty, which overlap with the priority areas of ODA. As such, the 3,200 local government entities in Japan, with their wealth of experts and facilities, could serve as extremely valuable players in international cooperation. Unfortunately, however, they are not prominently addressed in the ODA Charter, garnering even fewer mentions than NGOs and corporations.

After clearly stating the need to diversify the players in the field of ODA, the new ODA Charter needs to not only list the various players but also establish frameworks for providing aid, specific to each type of player. Furthermore, the charter's treatment of players should correspond to their level of contribution to the field. As such, another paragraph should be added under "III. Formulation and Implementation of ODA Policy" to clearly address these issues.

Voicing Local Opinions

Despite the important role they are gradually taking on with regard to ODA, local governments have an unjustifiably weak presence in this arena. In order to raise their profile, local governments need to voice their opinions to the government, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, as well as to the mass media. When formulating medium-term ODA policy or when conducting an ODA project, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs usually solicits outside opinions, and there are plenty of newspapers and journals, such as the International Development Journal, that are raising interest in ODA. I myself plan to follow my own advice and take advantage of these opportunities to voice my opinion.


The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and Local Communities

by Hiroo Ito, Special Advisor to the Governor on NGOs and the Local Government, JBIC

The Emergence of New Actors

International aid to developing countries started out universally as an activity conducted primarily by central governments or small groups of volunteers. JBIC's official development assistance (ODA) operations are an example of the type of development aid that is carried out by the government of an advanced country to assist the governments of developing countries.

As global society has evolved, however, citizens have developed a deeper understanding of development efforts, and the range of actors in the field of economic cooperation has expanded to include a wide variety of participants. What is noteworthy is that this shift has been apparent on both the receiving end (developing countries) and the giving end (advanced countries). Citizens' voices and local needs are starting to be reflected in the various processes of international cooperation.

In order for the developing countries that receive aid to properly assess and communicate their needs, it is important that they take into consideration the views of local citizens and NGOs. Moreover, advanced countries need to ensure that their aid programs are rooted in the support and understanding of their citizens. In other words, in order to carry out programs that most effectively meet the needs of developing countries, it is becoming increasingly necessary to involve a variety of actors and to base the programs on constructive discussions among these actors. An increase in public interest in ODA and a rise in public consciousness of these activities are vital steps toward this end. Only after these changes will we start to see more meaningful results from economic cooperation.

Examples of Collaborative Activities

JBIC is making an effort to ensure that international yen loans, or ODA loans, are made based on the views of citizens, local needs, and public participation. JBIC is responsible for managing a portion of Japanese ODA and makes yen loans to developing countries as part of its overall operations. JBIC's Strategy for Overseas Economic Cooperation Operations, which describes the basic principles of these ODA loans, outlines the need for greater openness in ODA loan operations, increased public participation, and partnerships with NGOs, local communities, and local government agencies in Japan.

The success of this strategy will depend on how effectively JBIC incorporates the wealth of knowledge and experience offered at the local level in Japan into its international cooperation activities. As one example of JBIC's cooperation with local communities in Japan, it engages in personnel exchanges that place local government staff in JBIC's offices. Also, JBIC is striving in various ways to assist developing countries through ODA loan operations that draw on local sources of knowledge, for example by temporarily dispatching local government staff to serve as experts in certain ODA loan projects for a short period. In addition, it is experimenting with an effort to develop projects based on proposals from local entities such as regional governments.

One example of this effort is a JBIC project involving michi no eki, or roadside stations, which were started in Japan as a community development model that involves local governments and local citizens. [These roadside stations, located along national highways or major routes, serve three functions. They not only provide rest facilities but also serve to promote the area's local products and provide information about local history, culture, and places of interest. Their third function is to revitalize the local community and build ties among localities. —Ed.]. This JBIC project was aimed at sharing Japan's knowledge and experience related to michi no eki with Thailand, which is tackling the issue of local community development. With the participation of Tomiura Town in Chiba Prefecture and Uchiko Town in Aichi Prefecture, both of which are engaged in successful michi no eki initiatives, an advisory group was sent to Thailand in July of this year.

Another example involves Kitakyushu City, which has been receiving worldwide attention for its success in handling its pollution problems. JBIC's interest in the city focused on the knowledge and experience that Kitakyushu's municipal government and private sector have accumulated in the areas of pollution control and environmental improvement. Realizing that the city's experience could benefit an existing ODA loan project related to pollution control in the Philippines, JBIC commissioned Kitakyushu City to conduct a survey. Currently, JBIC and Kitakyushu are carrying out various collaborative activities, such as on-site workshops.

Tying International Cooperation to Local Community Revitalization

Linkages between JBIC and local governments also offer benefits for the local-government side. For example, these linkages can help local governments to carry out their own international cooperation programs more efficiently and effectively by offering them access to JBIC's pool of information on developing countries and to its channels to the governments of these countries, as well as to its financial resources.

Japan's economy continues to suffer both at the national and local levels, but perhaps this fact gives local communities reason to avoid looking inward and instead turn to international cooperation as a possible solution. The many possibilities inherent in international cooperation could be utilized to build self-confidence and pride in local citizens and to generate positive benefits that would revitalize these local communities.

Globalization and decentralization are two mega-trends occurring in tandem in global society today. The traditional concept of "national development" is now shifting to the concepts of "community development" and "development that draws on the rich potential of individuals." It is my hope to see JBIC play a helping hand in infusing the field of international cooperation with the vitality of local communities.


Please send comments/inquiries to grassnet@jcie.or.jp.