Monday, May 31, 2010

Is Development Aid Nonsense? ... a debate!

Dear Colleagues

I wish I was invited to speak on this subject ... and with this group. It promises to be interesting. What a great subject for a debate: "Is Development Aid Nonsense?"

The debate is going to take place in Amsterdam, Netherlands on June 4th, and has a Dutch centric starting point but this resonates:
Opinions amongst political parties vary depending on their political orientation but no one seems to be asking the countries in the South about their needs.
Very little that has been done in the name of development over the past 40 years has had any meaningful input from the theoretical beneficiaries ... and it is quite amazing that even today the structure of the industry is so little changed from 30 years ago.

My position is that development aid can be either very valuable or a complete waste of money ... it depends on the people involved and the decisions made. There is no single answer to this question. With good people and good decisions, there is, in my view, a huge return from development aid. But almost all the time the people who make decisions serve themselves and make their decision with this in mind, and development aid ends up a waste of money.

Haiti is a good example. It had to happen. The media ... as in the New York Times ... is now reporting that the situation in Haiti is not good. The article is titled "Rubble of a Broken City Strains Haitians’ Patience" written by Damien Cave

Nothing in this article comes as a surprise ... but what is infuriating is that most everything talked about should have been handled. There have been hundreds of efforts to do many of the things that are needed ... but the "system" put in place has served to make it very difficult for good ideas to get incorporated into the relief and rebuilding process. This is the way a dysfunctional system always operates!

Development aid does not work in large part because the prevailing system of government does not work. It is appalling how many people on the planet are living under governments that are dysfunctional ... and very little that can be done about it using the established norms of international relations. Big institutions like the United Nations exist ... but it is not entirely clear how effective the UN is at making much of a difference. Something more effective is needed ... and I would argue that something effective is likely to be based on data more than being based on structure.

In the NYT article about Haiti there is reference to the cost and time required to establish a business in Haiti ... this is no accident but the "rule of law" being used to make it very difficult for new business to be established. This is a very practical little example ... but government is one of the big constraints on success ... and development aid has been largely responsible for a lot of bad government staying funded.

This is the Memorial Day weekend in the United States ... a time to remember the people who have fought for Freedom and Liberty. It saddens me that so much of the world's population does not have benefit from their sacrifice!

Peter Burgess
4 June: Is Development Aid Nonsense? (Amsterdam)
Andrea Sturkenboom
Mon, May 31, 2010 at 2:27 PM
Is Development Aid Nonsense?
Organised by the Transnational Institute (TNI)
DATE: Friday, 4 June 2010
TIME: 20:00 – 22:00hrs
VENUE: Salon, de Balie, Kleine-Gartmanplantsoen 10, 1017 RR Amsterdam
Prof Jan Nederveen Pieterse (Chair), contributor to WRR reports and studies on the future of Dutch development cooperation; Professor of global studies and sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara
Maarten Brouwer (NL), Ambassador for development cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Netherlands
Dot Keet (South Africa), Alternative Information & Development Centre, Cape Town; key co-ordinator of the continent-wide Africa Trade Network (ATN)
Praful Bidwai (India), Indian climate specialist, former senior editor of the Times of India, author of “From What Now to What Next: Reflections on three decades of international politics and development” (Dag Hammarskj√∂ld Foundation)
Marcos Arruda (Brazil), Director of Políticas Alternativas Para o Cone Sul (PACS), active member of the Brazilian Network for the Integration of the Peoples working on issues related to NAFTA, Mercosur and the World Trade Organisation.

Debate about the future of Dutch development cooperation is again picking up pace ahead of the general elections in June. Opinions amongst political parties vary depending on their political orientation but no one seems to be asking the countries in the South about their needs.

The Transnational Institute is bringing Southern voices into the debate. A panel from some of the rising countries of the South will discuss how Dutch aid could usefully contribute to more sustainable development, in particular building civil society in the south as the means of addressing structural poverty.

The session will be chaired by Professor Jan Nederveen Pieterse, contributor to WRR reports and studies on the future of Dutch development cooperation. He is author of 15 books and specialist in development studies and cultural studies and globalisation.

The panelists will be available for interviews on 4 June. To arrange an interview or for more
information, please contact or +31 65 491 8960

The Transnational Institute (TNI) is an international network of activist-scholars committed to critical analyses of the global problems such as militarism and conflict, poverty and marginalisation, social injustice and environmental degradation.

Transnational Institute
P.O. Box 14656
1001 LD Amsterdam
The Netherlands
tel +31 20 662 6608
fax +31 20 675 7176

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