Posts Tagged ‘aid conditionality’

Of corruption, aid and respect

Update 02/12/14: news link fixed

Grand corruption is one of the stories of the year across East Africa, with several countries enduring major scandals. I am with many others who assert that corruption is not necessarily the most important development issue to address. (China seems to have got impressively rich incredibly quickly despite being also pretty corrupt.) And even were you to want to address corruption as an economic development rather than justice/rule-of-law issue I think that endemic petty corruption is probably a bigger barrier to development than political grand corruption. Finally, donor threats to punish especially egregious scandals by withholding funds always come with the inevitable downside that the poorest get punished twice whilst having only the slightest impact on the guilty politicians.

But then you have stories like this, and I am reminded of how useless many developing countries are at investigating their own elites when it really isn’t that difficult. Duh! Of course they are, I mean this is political science 101, right? But here’s the jarring juxtaposition; the same political elites want us to simultaneously accept the following:

  1. Their countries are poor and need the help of a few $bn of Western taxpayers’ money.
  2. That corruption in their countries is hardly as bad as others make it out to be*, and anyway their law enforcement agencies lack the capacity to finger and then prosecute such few officials who may be guilty of sticking their hands in the cookie jar.
  3. Western donors are too bossy and guilty of neo-colonialism in their interference in supposedly internal affairs.

I don’t think Western donors do themselves any favours with their regular finger wagging, but honestly, do the corrupt local elites really expect the donors to show them the respect they so clearly feel they deserve when they carry on like that? It’s just cause and effect. Respect is earned.

* Ever heard the one about the smoke without a fire?

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Throwing away soft power

“[Justine Greening] believes that the aid budget is not just about alleviating poverty, however important that may. It is also about easing the passage for great British commercial firms in emerging markets and ensuring the resources are more carefully marshalled.”

That from a sycophantic interview with the UK Minister of International Development in the Daily Mail. Alas it is all part of a pattern: Canada, Australia and Norway have all recently folded their international development departments back into their foreign ministries. (Without having ever been particularly close to bilateral aid action, I am not sure that such organisational restructuring, in and of itself, is such a bad thing, but the message in terms of how aid is treated is not good.)

This change in strategy may be not only nakedly self-serving, but also self-defeating. Despite all the hype, Chinese aid is not always as popular as is sometimes made out due to their habit to force their own commercial conditions on to things. (Roads get built by Chinese companies, employing Chinese labour etc.) While the choice was between Western moralizers and Chinese leeches I felt there was still a reasonable contest of ideas. But subjugating aid to self-interest in this way seems tantamount to hoisting the white flag.

Hat tips: Alex Evans and Peter B

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