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ABSTRACT: This paper considers approaches towards improving the predictability of aid to low income countries, with a special focus on budget support. In order to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, the donor community is increasing aid flows while pushing for more coordination and tighter performance-based selectivity. However, these factors may increase the unpredictability of aid, from current levels, which are already high enough to impose significant costs. Predictability is a particular challenge in the area of budget support, which will continue to increase in importance as aid is sought to underpin longer-term recurrent spending commitments. First, how can countries deal with residual short-run volatility of disbursements relative to commitments? Second, can donors lengthen commitment horizons to individual developing countries without excessive risk of misallocating aid? Third, within a country’s overall aid envelope, how should donors set the shares of project aid and budget support? Finally, the paper considers the other main approach to budget support, the output or outcome-driven approach of the European Union. The paper concludes that many of these issues can be addressed. Simple spending and savings rules built around a buffer reserve fund of 2–4 months of imports can help smooth public spending. Aid can be pre-committed several years ahead with only small efficiency losses, using a strategy of “flexible pre-commitment.” Guidelines can be set to limit the volatility of budget support while keeping it performance-based, and past experience can be used more systematically to develop “outcome” norms to better guide aid allocation.
*The Massachusetts Avenue Development Seminar (MADS) series is an effort by the Center for Global Development and The Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies to take advantage of the incredible concentration of great international development scholars in the Metro Washington, DC area. The series seeks to bring together members of this community and improve communication between them.