Tag Archives: aid

Investing in Governance for Lasting Growth

Amid the lingering effects of the global financial crisis, there has been an ongoing debate regarding the strategy behind international aid. The question is whether to continue with traditional projects that seek to alleviate poverty through the provision of basic human needs such as health care, education, and food security, or to refocus efforts on building the capacity of local governance thereby making developing countries capable of addressing these issues on their own.  While this debate has been around for at least two decades, current budgetary constraints in donor countries have brought the conversation back into focus.

Speaking in terms of policy, there has long been consensus on the fact that better governance leads to more vigorous economic growth.  Regardless of rhetoric, however, donor agencies have continued to channel the majority of their resources toward areas like infrastructure, agricultural development, and education.  This must change if the development community wants to meet its goals.

On a panel at the Center for Strategic International Studies, Executive Director of the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) John Sullivan joined three other discussants – including a World Bank VP and U.S. Ambassador – to talk about the nexus between governance and growth. The panelists unanimously agreed that governance, specifically democratic governance, is a crucial element of moving developing countries off of foreign aid.  Good governance is an enabler that allows developing countries to better utilize donor funding and develop sustainable, local solutions to challenges.


Tackling Corruption in Disaster Relief Efforts

(Photo: WFP/Praveen Agrawal)

(Photo: WFP/Praveen Agrawal)

This article originally appeared on the TrustLaw blog.

Natural disasters affect millions of lives each year and bring humanity together around a common goal of helping the victims and supporting reconstruction. The Asian tsunami of 2004, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, or the deadly foods in Pakistan later that year are just a few examples of tragic events that triggered the outpouring of donations to relief efforts. Yet, all too often this well-intended generosity fails to translate into commensurate results on the ground.

One reason is the sheer volume of aid that tends to overwhelm the absorptive capacity of governments, aid agencies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Another key reason is corruption caused by the urgency to disburse aid that often leads to dangerous corner cutting when it comes to controls on spending and accountability.

The need to tackle corruption in disaster aid has been brought into focus again by the destruction wrecked by typhoon Haiyan, or Yolanda as it is known in the Philippines. In response, so far nearly 18 billion pesos ($414 million) in cash and relief goods have been pledged. The challenge of administering this magnitude of aid creates considerable corruption risks.


Haiti’s unmet challenge of governance reform

Many of Haiti's rebuilding needs remain unmet. Photo via Freedom House.

The unprecedented media attention to Haiti’s recovery efforts following the 2010 earthquake quickly waned. This year’s presidential elections were a rather small blip on the media radar, and when Haiti did make the headlines, it was not necessarily for anything that would make its citizens proud.

Yet the situation in Haiti remains dire. Billions of dollars in aid have been committed and spent, but visible improvements in governance, lack of which was the main reason that the earthquake had such an impact, are just not there.

As to why – Paul Collier’s (the author of the Bottom Billion) overview of a new book by Paul Farmer on Haiti’s attempt to recover from the devastating earthquake provides some answers. In large part they boil down to the fact that history and culture matter in institutional change and improving governance is much more difficult than implementing a set of technical reforms.

It was unfortunate that Haiti had to have an election following the earthquake, which turned the attention away from rebuilding and governance improvements to political campaigning. Rife with fraud and corruption, the election further undermined the already weak trust citizens had in their government.

Similarly, proliferation of NGOs involved in all aspects of Haitian society created a double problem – NGOs themselves could not address challenges on the systematic level as the government should, yet their extensive work throughout the country undermined the ability of the government to perform its role (and this challenge in not unique to Haiti).

International aid agencies had also faced some difficulties on the ground, in part due to suspicion with which Haitian citizens treated such efforts for historical reason. The billions committed to reconstruction could not be effectively spent as the state lacked capacity and was rife with corruption, NGOs weren’t able to meet the task of large infrastructure projects on their own, and, most importantly, the chain of decision-making (and accountability) was simply not there. An effort to set up a commission to fill that decision-making void misfired – instead of bringing all the different parties together (donors, government, NGOs), the opposite happened.

Even though Haiti has been replaced in the headlines by other events – the job of rebuilding the country still seems to be at the very early stages. Much remains to be done. But Collier sees a way out, suggesting that we’ll begin to see real change in Haiti when “the governing elite will start to smell the opportunities of economic progress more strongly than the opportunities for public plunder.” This is what happened in Rwanda, perhaps this can happen in Haiti too.

The changing nature of development assistance

Will Egypt and Tunisia turn to Turkey for assistance in building democratic institutions and rebuilding their economies? Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/petates/476994291/

The south-to-south model of international development assistance has become a popular topic in debates on reforming traditional aid approaches. And while there are certainly numerous benefits to engaging developing countries in helping each other address their development challenges, the south-to-south model is not replacing traditional aid models as Jonathan Glennie argues over at the Guardian’s Poverty Matters Blog.

One of the limitations highlighted by Glennie is that the south-to-south market in aid remains relatively small – there is only $15 billion from just a few countries, including China, India, Venezuela and Turkey. But even within that market, much of the cooperation is far from the horizontal engagement that it is advertised to be (peer to peer engagement between development actors). Further, Glennie argues, many of the southern governments are quite complicit in keeping their own citizens in poverty and actually have little to offer in terms of poverty reduction in other countries.

Still, greater attention to aid on the part of the developing world is changing the terms of the debate about aid effectiveness. As the Economist argues in its recent article on India’s effort to set up its own international aid agency, the growing emergence of the south as a source for development funding can actually be beneficial for the development assistance community by forcing donors to specialize and refine their different approaches.

For Westerners, justifying aid will be harder. But there is a reason [for donors in the south] to give: like trade, aid benefits from specialisation and comparative advantage. Emerging countries, with recent experience to draw upon, might do a better job of infrastructure spending. The West should focus more on policies and good governance (something many poorer Indian states are crying out for). There is a new world of aid but over a billion people remain poor; they still need help, even if some of them live in countries that now give aid as well as get it.

That’s not to say that the south can’t play a role in promoting better governance.  While countries such as China and Venezuela are unlikely to integrate democracy and governance into their development programs in the near future, Brazil, India, South Africa and Turkey have much to contribute. The question is, will they?

Tom Carother’s attempts to answer this question in his recent article on engaging developing country democracy champions in international assistance efforts. He argues that while the potential is there, developing country governments (with few exceptions) are unlikely to take a vocal stance on democracy. As Carothers argues, the silver lining may be that civil society organizations in emerging democracies can become voices for democracy internationally and lend a helping hand to their counterparts in fragile democracies and authoritarian countries.

Veiled assumptions

(Photo: Bikyamasr.com)

A few years ago a friend of mine was offered a job with a UN agency in her native country. She was elated by the opportunity until she realized it was conditional on a strict dress code: she had to agree to remove her headscarf.

In every country, local governments give different amounts of funding to UN agencies and exercise varying degrees of control over their work. As it turns out in this particular Arab country, the minister overseeing the UN agency was a prominent women’s rights leader, and due to her secular, cosmopolitan orientation, she felt that the hijab was antithetical to the agency’s mission of promoting women’s rights.

How does an agency that purports to be advancing the rights of women end up dictating what clothes they can and cannot wear? It may seem like a perverse example whose incongruities should be written off as unintended byproducts of a well meaning development project. That may be so, but it would also mean ignoring how prominent narratives of women’s rights and empowerment emerge to cloud the powerful global infrastructure of development in the first place.

Drawing and dissecting the pathways from theoretical ideas to evaluation indicators provides a revealing exercise to clear away the fog emanating from development buzz phrases like ‘women’s rights’ or ‘women’s empowerment’. The UN’s Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) is a good place to start.

There are few documents that command such influence over how donors and implementers alike approach issues of human development. In 2005, the AHDR dealt specifically with the theme of women. While AHDR does a commendable job of outlining the struggles and challenges facing women throughout the Middle East and North Africa, the upper middle class and cosmopolitan background of its authors should raise questions as to many of the underlying assumptions regarding daily life for Arab women.

The power of reports like the AHDR is that their prescriptions are usually intuitive: take, for example, employment as a key to the rise of women in the Arab world. Employment provides a wage, and greater resources lead to economic empowerment; an income could also provide greater space for a woman to make choices as an individual, outside of the confines of an overbearing family or demanding husband. However, as Columbia anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod argues in a critique of the AHDR:

The fantasy about the magical value of work for women is a middle-class one—it presumes that jobs are well paid and fulfilling…One must ask if work that is badly paid, back breaking, exploitative, or boring liberates women. If employers or families do not provide child care, is it economically viable for women to work? If the wages are low, are the cost of transport, the absence of women’s labor in maintaining the household, and vulnerability to harassment worth it?

Over several decades of fieldwork in Egyptian villages, Abu-Lughod notes that a greater number of women are graduating high school, attending college, and finding local jobs, but these same women find it difficult to work after marriage and having kids. “Who would care for the children? Who would raise livestock as insurance against illness or big expenses?” The choice of whether to work or not is one whose motives are economic. They depend on each woman’s particular situation and vary tremendously.

Using language that bemoans the absence of a “clear dividing line” between the individual and the family, the AHDR enshrines individualism and assumes family dynamics are unfavorable to women. Such statements belie the extent to which women view their education or employment (otherwise considered “empowering endeavors”) as contributing to family well-being. As Abu-Lughod states, the report “is blind to the possibility that families might be, for good or ill, the very structures within which individuals conceive of themselves and realize themselves as individuals.”

It may be that large Western or multi-national development agencies see it as their mission to fundamentally reshape the role of women within the family, from the way they dress to their purchasing power. But more likely they just want what’s best for women everywhere. In that case, an approach that avoids grandiose designs and focuses on the full diversity of circumstances and reasons for choosing one path or another is more effective. This may mean job-skills training and access to education in some cases; in others it may just be cash hand-outs to cover grain feed for the family livestock.

In the same way presuming a hijab symbolizes an oppressed state, presuming that unemployment means a lack of contribution to a family’s income or well-being is just as misguided.

Africa: The Next BRIC? Or Not Yet?

Senegal Street Market

A market in Senegal. Can this street become the next hotbed of global economic growth? (Photo: CIPE)

Much has been said about the BRIC economies – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – the group that is slowly but surely assuming a prominent position in global markets, making the old debate about the first and third world obsolete.  But is there a new BRIC on the horizon?

According to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director of the World Bank – its Africa.  In  her his recent speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School, she argues that Africa is set to join BRICs as the dominant force in the global economy.  For that to happen, according to Okonjo-Iweala three things are necessary:


The Implementation Gap Problem

Yesterday, we hosted Global Integrity’s Nathaniel Heller who presented the most recent results of the 2009 Global Integrity Report and gave an interesting overview of corruption measurements and their practical relevance.

Global Integrity ranks 70 countries based on the quality of their governance institutions, and there are some interesting developments in this year’s index.  On the positive side, their “grand corruption watch list” lost 3 countries due to improvements over the past few years – China, Georgia, and Serbia.  On the negative side, however, that same list got 6 new members – Algeria, Jordan, Liberia, Mongolia, Ukraine, and Vietnam.

One of the more interesting things that Global Integrity measures is implementation gaps, which are sufficiently large in some developing countries, illustrating that oftentimes what countries need is not necessarily new laws and regulations, but better enforcement of existing rules.  For two biggest offenders in this category – Uganda and Bosnia – a large implementation gap is also linked to high levels of donor assistance.  Which begs a question: “Are aid-dependent countries more likely to exhibit large implementation gaps?”