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The Venue and Voice of the world's major donor countries
This month in an exclusive interview the Diplomatic Society Global Editor Mr. Srimal Fernando engages Mr Erik Solheim the current President of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). He is also the United Nations (UN) Environment Programme’s special envoy for environment, conflict and disaster.

The Paris based OECD, the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) in which Mr.Solheim presides the forum as Chair to discuss issues surrounding aid, development and poverty reduction in developing countries a "venue and voice" of the world's major donor countries.

Photo: Mr Erik Solheim President, DAC at OECD and Special envoy, UN Environment Programme

Previously, Mr. Solheim was Norway’s Minister of the Environment and International Development from 2007 to 2012.  Prior to this appointment he was Minister of International Development from 2005 to 2007.

Norway has a universal reputation as a peacemaker. The Peace Process in Sri Lanka was a clear example where Norway brokered a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) between the conflicting parties on 22 February 2002. Mr. Solheim was the main negotiator in the peace process in Sri Lanka from 2000 to 2005. He also contributed to peace processes in Sudan, Nepal, Myanmar and Burundi.

Srimal Fernando (SF):  Mr Erik Solheim can you give a brief background of yourself?
Erik Solheim:  I was elected the president of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) at OECD in January 2013, and I live in Paris with my wife and children. I also serve as United Nations Environment Programme’s special envoy for environment, conflict and disaster.
From 2007 to 2012 I was Norway’s Minister of the Environment and International Development; and I served as Minister of International Development from 2005 to 2007.
Five years before that, from 2000 to 2005, I was the main negotiator in the peace process in Sri Lanka. I have also contributed to peace processes in Sudan, Nepal, Myanmar and Burundi. I have continued to focus on fragile states also in my job at OECD, working to align the donors behind state building and peace processes in war torn countries.

SF :  Briefly describe Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD ) organization's history and major accomplishments.
Erik Solheim: The organisation was first formed in 1948, then called The Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) to administer American and Canadian aid in the framework of the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe after World War II.
This mandate was changed in late 1960, and from 1961 we had the organisation which we see today.  Its mandate covers economic, environmental, and social issues. It acts by peer pressure to improve policy and implement "soft law"—non-binding instruments that can occasionally lead to binding treaties.
Within the OECD, the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) – which I chair, is a forum to discuss issues surrounding aid, development and poverty reduction in developing countries. It is a "venue and voice" of the world's major donor countries in the world.

SF: The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was established in 1948 and celebrated its 50th anniversary recently. How does OECD ensure partner countries and governments around the world access to the best global expertise?
Erik Solheim: All the reports and reviews which the professionals of the OECD make are open for the public. We also try to work closely with China, India and several other countries which are not members of the OECD. The work we have done and the critical support that we have provided to all of the important processes that took place this year: from the Addis Ababa Conference on Development Finance and the New York Summit that launched the new Sustainable Development Goals, to the decisive turning point in our response to climate change that was achieved at COP21, in which our report on climate finance and the 100 billion goal was a defining landmark and building block are all proof of how the OECD now works broadly and cooperates with more organisations and countries  for  the best possible results for the world.

SF: What are the major projects implemented in Brazil, India, China Indonesia and South Africa?
Erik Solheim: There are many projects in these countries which we follow up, but the OECD does not really implement projects in countries. China is however engaged in plenty of OECD work. They became a member of the OECD Development Centre in 2015. We are currently implementing a joint Programme of Work for the 2015-2016 period, covering 20 policy areas from economics, statistics, agriculture, trade and investment, to financial markets, taxation, education and social policies, innovation and development co-operation, to name but a few.
The OECD is also supporting the preparation of China’s G20 Presidency in 2016. Early collaboration includes the establishment of a Skills Development Programme at the OECD, which provides soft skills training for Chinese officials involved in the G20 process.

SF:  What are the challenges that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is facing at the moment?
Erik Solheim: As it is for any organisation, it is important for the OECD to produce useful and correct advice in an ever changing world. We need to review our role in the international community quite often, and revise our focus and contribution accordingly to the changing structures of power, societies and shifting consolidations of the world. The world is not the same today as it was when the OECD first was established.
Our ability to impact the global agenda is equally matched by the targeted policy advice and support that we provide to our member and partner countries, which increasingly turn to us when confronting their specific challenges. More and more, the OECD is becoming the sought-after house of best policies, and the reference for sound and credible reforms. The increasing number of Leaders who visit us also shows that we are becoming the “go-to institution” for policy advice on promoting growth, development and well-being.

S.F: Let’s go back to the time when you were the Norwegian Special envoy and peace facilitator. The  Norwegian brokered Ceasefire Agreement (CFA )  on 22 February 2002 brought an end to the hostilities  to both conflicting parties , and restored  normalcy  to  all  ethnic   communities   living  in Sri Lanka  whether they were  Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims or others. What were the major take aways from the Norwegian brokered Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in Sri Lanka?
Erik Solheim: In the first year we experienced no killings. There was a stop in hostility and the atmosphere of normalcy came to Sri Lanka. Thereafter  the conflict evolved, and I believe the reason for that was lack of cooperation between the two biggest Sinhalese parties, and the fact that that the Tamil Tigers lacked the will to receive federalism when it was first offered.

S.F: During the Sri Lanka peace process the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) was not empowered enough to prevent ceasefire violations. At the structural level, the CFA ignored the issue of arms control thus encouraging both conflicting parties to arm themselves. If the  CFA   was  handled  in a different  way  and the above mentioned  lapses were corrected  do you think  the Norwegian facilitated peace process might have been successful?
Erik Solheim: The reason for this was that the two parties of the conflict did not want to abolish or stop being able to buy new weapons before a final peace was made. Norway did not support this view, but as a negotiator and facilitator we have to let the parties decide what the agreement should include. Maybe things would have been different if not so many new weapons had been bought.

S.F:  Peaceful coexistence, justice and the eventual reconciliation and national healing are fundamental elements for sustainable peace. What is the way forward for reconciliation and national healing for Sri Lanka?
Erik Solheim: Sri Lanka is now experiencing enormous progress after the presidential election in January 2015. The atmosphere for national healing has never been better. Sri Lanka needs all the support they can get to make this work. It is necessary to find a national solution to the needs of the Tamils for their own governance in the north and the east. Sri Lanka also needs to make clear what happened in the years of the war, and bring justice to the victims of the war crimes.]


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