Maintaining your investment

In my last two posts I queried how donors may fail to sustain otherwise successful projects that cannot make the grade to self-sustainability. Many others, of course, are handed over to the host country government, who proceed to run them into the ground.

These, however, are not the only things that the government (local and national) here fails to invest in. Basic infrastructure is repeatedly failing without any adequate back-up or emergency planning. Every time it appears to take the authorities by surprise. E.g. despite chronic power failures the water supplier’s stand-by generator has not been maintained and so power shortages automatically equal water shortages. Fine for a few hours, crippling for a couple of weeks!

Interestingly, there is one counter-example. After what I imagine is years of pushing by donors tired of funding new roads only for them swiftly to fall into various states of disrepair, the government is actually now quite good at repairing pot holes and the like. But alas this proactive approach does not yet appear to have spread to other parts of government.

It is temptingly easy to blame the government for all these failures, and slam them we do, but the problem is wider than that, as anyone who has rented property around here can attest. Landlords tend to build a house and then sweat their asset for all its worth, typically refusing to carry out any repairs.

This does not have to be totally irrational if one thinks of a boot-strap situation: a landlord may build a house and rent it to cover the costs of sending their children to university. Here the expectation of long term returns from education may far exceed that from property, and thus it may be appropriate to thus sweat ones asset. But I see many examples where clearly the landlord is not that poor.

Lack of credit and a poorly functioning financial system at large almost certainly do not help either, but I find it hard not to conclude that there is a culture of not maintaining one’s investment. How common this is in other developing countries I do not know (if you do please weigh in with a comment), but I can see it being a significant drag on economic development. Especially while the government cannot manage to keep the lights on!

(The big donors, too, could offer rather better examples than they do.)

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