Friday, September 26, 2008


We move on from talking about the impact of aid to the process of how it is delivered.

Over the past decade, some of the major donors have begun changing the way they deliver aid, by, for example:
1. Making their programmes more complementary (Harmonization)
2. Strengthening the ownership and systems of recipient countries (Alignment).
3. Opening up tenders for aid projects to companies outside the donor country (Untying).

Check out the the Paris Declaration for more on this.

These changes are a direct response to some of the criticisms of aid we have been discussing.

Those of you who work in development would hear a lot about mechanisms like Sector-Wide Approaches and Direct Budget Support, which aim to bring donors together to direct aid through countries own systems and according to their priorities.

Interestingly, Australia's Aid Program has been moving in the opposite direction.

Having little to show after years of budget support to Papua New Guinea, Australia abandoned the strategy in the late 90s and moved to project aid. The bad experience in PNG seems to have shaped Australia's approach across the Pacific, where project aid is also the dominant form of assistance, according to the OECD.

This brings us to one of big 'chicken and egg' dilemmas in aid delivery - how can you strengthen countries' own systems when they are so corrupt or inefficient that resources are likely to be wasted?

A related question: is Australia's PNG experience directly applicable to the rest of the Pacific?

Over to you...


Jeremy J. said...

A recent SMH opinion piece, by an Aboriginal lady, comments that, "From a coastal viewpoint, life is most definitely meant to be easy. When barramundi and wallaby and oysters abound and the weather is warm, there is no logical reason to work more than two or three hours a day."

She then quotes Aboriginal intellectual Aunty Mary Graham, saying, "One of the worst things that whitefellas did … wasn't murders and rapes and the theft of land, bad as those things were. The worst thing was that they brought this terrible idea …" - the Protestant work ethic (paraphrased).

I don't necessarily agree, but I think it raises an interesting point- most aid is based on the premise that the recipients want the desired outcomes, and in many cases (famine, disease, war, etc) that's a fair assumption.

But in many cases (eg coastal indigenous cultures, particularly in the Pacific, where default living standards are relatively high), I suspect it's not so clear cut. Eg, if a coastal community is happy fishing, churching, and hanging out with family, then I suspect that aid dollars will remain fairly ineffective, unless and until a change in psyche/ culture brings about a real desire within the community for 'development'.

So I guess my answer to the question is this: if we (Australia, et al) are convinced (as I am) that our philosophy and method of social organisation is the best way (so far)to ensure that most people are afforded the necessary freedom and protection to live lives of dignity, then perhaps our aid dollars should be preceded by efforts to convince recipients that our way is better.

Otherwise, are we not (sometimes) spending billions leading a horse to water that it may not want to drink?

Jeremy J. said...

PS- to clarify, I'm not arguing that we should work to convince people to abandon lives of churching and fishing. It's highly debatable whether a western lifestyle could offer anything 'better' than that. I merely used that example to illustrate my point that the 'horse' may not want to drink the water being offered- sometimes for good reasons (because a life of fishing and churching would rule).

But sometimes for bad reasons (eg reluctance to give up objectively objectional cultural practices such as polygamy, pederasty etc).

Hence my suggestion that, in cases of the latter, perhaps our aid dollars should be preceded by efforts to convince recipients that our way (not killing apostates or political enemies, not allowing state control of the media, not treating women like chattels, etc) is better, albeit far from perfect.

Anonymous said...

With a gold Amex card and tickets to the New York ballet!

Aid buys votes at the UN Security Council. Taiwan is one example. It has no formal recognition from China, hey let's go and see our UN mates, buy a couple of small Pacific Island states off with aid in the meantime so we can increase our voting power at the table, then we can be secure from the advances of China. The outcomes on the ground are of no significance. really. The aid industry looks after itself very well, it works largely on the basis that rich western professionals love to travel and visit exotic places so these deals work out fine for them. Too bad if there is income disparity, that's just the way the world turns, it's the way you poisiton your lens that matters.

If you want to change the system work your way into the diplomatic service or better yett get a job as a technocrat in New York, Brussels or Geneva. It's the birth right of people in the North to dominate and rule!

Phil Richardson said...

jeremy j. and d5fillup, you've taken us to a more fundamental aid effectiveness question - where does the demand for 'development' come from?

I would argue that the demand for development comes not from aid-funded education efforts but from being exposed to the forces of globalisation.

In the case of the Pacific, I agree that absolute poverty is not a major concern.

But the comparison between pre-colonial Australia and modern-day Kiribati and Tuvalu only goes so far.

In the latter, globalisation and the cash economy have reached even the most remote outer islands. While there is still a genuine attachment to the subsistence lifestyle, people are voting with their feet and migrating in large numbers to urban centres to access the cash economy.

Social and cultural change is slower and people are resistant to what they perceive as outside influence... but increasing incomes and the evolution of a middle class has been shown time again to be a powerful driver for behaviour change in gender relations, family planning etc, etc.

The challenge is: what kind of mechanisms are available to 'tame' the wilder aspects of globalisation?