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Agency and Accountability in Multilateral Development Finance: An Agenda for Change

78 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2012 Last revised: 29 Aug 2012

Sophie E. Smyth

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: July 24, 2012


Recent development challenges highlight a pressing need to re-evaluate whether the post-World War II behemoths of multilateral development finance are up to the tasks being demanded of them today. The institutions that dominate the current order, the United Nations (“UN”) and the World Bank, are undergoing a crisis of confidence as the world’s development aid donors engage in an ongoing quest to find alternatives to them. This quest takes the form of setting up numerous funds narrowly tailored to finance specific, narrowly-defined needs. Examples of these funds include the Global Environment Trust Fund (GEF) and the Global Fund to Fight HIV Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis. The Climate Change Fund, proposed in the December 2009 Copenhagen Accord (and recently renamed the Green Climate Fund), is poised to follow this approach. This ad hoc special purpose fund approach lacks a coherent, unifying vision of how to meet today’s development challenges. The funds that have been created fill a need but suffer from several deficits, ranging from governance gaps and lacunae in accountability, to high transaction costs and uncertain status in the international political and legal order. These deficits generate new risks and costs for the international aid architecture. In this Article, I argue that the time has come to re-design the interrelationship between these special-purpose funds and the UN and the World Bank so that these funds can operate in sync with these institutions rather than as bypasses of them.

Keywords: agency, accountability, finance, trust fund, global health, global environment, collective aid

JEL Classification: K19, K33

Suggested Citation

Smyth, Sophie E., Agency and Accountability in Multilateral Development Finance: An Agenda for Change (July 24, 2012). 4 L. & DEV. REV. 65 (2011); Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-35. Available at SSRN: or

Sophie E. Smyth (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad St.
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
215 204 5008 (Phone)
215 204 1185 (Fax)

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