Developing countries downplay G20 legitimacy concerns

04/11/2011 | Thierry Ogier

Poor nations have given their cautious backing to the G20, despite concerns that the group’s limited representation would undermine its effectiveness

Leading developing country officials have defended the G20 against criticism that it lacks legitimacy, as experts warned the group’s limited representation would undermine its effectiveness on issues beyond immediate crisis resolution.

African Development Bank president Donald Kaberuka said the involvement of low-income African nations in the G20 process was a step in the right direction, though more work had to be done to include a broader range of poor countries.

“Clearly we cannot have everybody around the table, but the G20 has opened up to other countries. The African Union is here,” he told Emerging Markets in an interview. “It is important to figure out how the low-income countries have their voice at the table as well.”

He added: “The G20 as a group has got a force of legitimacy.”

But Paola Subacchi, head of international economics at Chatham House, said that the group’s ability to act on wider issues such as development required meaningful participation by more developing countries.

“With the broader agenda, the issue of membership is there, because you can’t discuss development, for example, without input from poor countries,” she said.

“The G20 wants to play a much bigger role and act like a steering committee, but a broader agenda requires the G20 to expand its membership and reach a more inclusive level of consensus.

“These governance and legitimacy issues have to be addressed in the long-run.”

Former senior IMF official Jack Boorman said that the group’s exclusivity was problematic. “One of the problems of the G20 is that they continue to say that they represent 85% of the global economy, but that still leaves out [some] 167 countries, many of which should have a voice.

“If you had constituency representation, you would have a buy-in that doesn’t exist at the moment.”

Amar Bhattacharya, director of the G24 group of developing countries, acknowledged that while “there is a fundamental legitimacy issue, we cannot have 192 countries at the table”.

He said that the G20 had to take centre stage given the current crisis conditions because of a lack of alternatives.

“The G20 is a self-selected group that is gathering the most important countries in the world,” he said. “They can do two valuable things: they can coordinate among themselves towards finding a better global solution and they can help push for reforms in global institutions like the IMF and the World Bank.”

But he added that “the final decision must go to universal organizations.”

NGOs also acknowledged the G20’s importance but noted that the group must bear in mind the far-reaching effects of its decisions.

“The G20 is not a global directorate. But these countries do represent around 80% of the global GDP. Every leader of these countries has a strong responsibility vis à vis their own population. And their decisions have important consequences for the whole planet,” said Luc Lamprière, director general of Oxfam France.

The French presidency is pushing to further institutionalize the group by creating a permanent secretariat.

The idea was supported this week by business leaders in Cannes, but it has been slammed by others who fear the move would create another large bureaucracy, undermining the group’s efficiency.

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