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The AusAID reality – can’t do, won’t listen


HENRY Sims writes that "an audit is being considered by someone but the silence is deafening."

He goes on - "Who is the ‘someone’ and how do we contact them? Do we have contacts who can view the expenditure records. Surely there has to be some auditing being done?"

I have been writing with an on-the-spot observer's critical eye about Australian aid-project implementation in PNG since 1997.

My scrawls have encompassed quite long papers, circulated, in one case published as part of his then newspaper column (with acknowledgement) by PNG's Governor-General Sir Paulias Matane, himself an Attitude aficionado.

In another longish piece I evoked the response from the late Harry Jackman - "What's this, Fowke, preparing for a PhD?"- ignoring the fact, well known to the late HHJ, that my only paper qualification is a Class 3 truck-drivers licence.

There have been emails and other communications, and opinion pieces published in PNG and in Australia. And there were one or two face-to-face meetings with Oz -based consultants unfortunate enough to encounter the enraged Fowke in his natural environment: over a cold drink at the Bird of Paradise Hotel in Goroka.

And even at one stage there was the suggestion that we might at some time meet for a discussion, received from Ms Elizabeth Copus-Campbell - at that time in charge of the PNG desk at AusAID, Canberra; now bosmeri olgeta at AusAID in Port Moresby.

Whilst some of my approaches were acknowledged, there was never any hint of a desire to engage - not even a succinctly-put "do shut up you old fool!" Never, from 1997 until today.

In the course of this long one-way campaign, I encountered a small number of sensible, pragmatic and switched on Oz-based academics with interests in PNG affairs.

It was one of these who dubbed the AusAID/DFAT complex as "The Citadel of Solypsism" - and this it most certainly is.

There have been deep, dark rumblings from within the bureaucratic walls over the past twelve months, following the news that Australia’s fearless little leader, in March last year, demanded a complete rethink and some effective ideas before the last budget. "Or else."

Perhaps the precipitate resignation of the head man at AusAID was connected with this demand and the answer given.

Observers have seen some shadowy shuffling, but the functionaries of this closed order maintain closed lips, at least when when not sipping whatever has relpaced chardonnay on the list of the upwardly-mobile in Canberra.

One feels that they probably think of people like me as "part of the problem" which they, in their sparkling-bright, post-colonial suits of ideological clothes are sent "up there" to combat - and for this reason, beneath their dignity to address.


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Henry Sims

John - Thanks for being an on the spot observer and prolific questioner since '97. My endevour was to break a big task down into smaller manageable parts.

Paul Oates thought there was an entrenched status quo on both sides of the Torres Strait and feels that internal investigations of self "always come up with the right answer".

Yet is seems to me from reading the Report into the PNG-Australia Development Cooperation Treaty 1999 by the learned trio (Eric Kwa, Stephen Howes and Soe Lin) that things are not too far astray with AusAID.

The bottom line appears to me that the amount of funding is so little and so thinly spread, that outcomes are hardly apparent. This causes concern.

With more than 50% of AusAID funds being used up in technical assistance or "ineffective capacity building" there are recommendations to direct funding to sectors where most improvements will be achieved (i.e., Education)

I personally am confident in the governance processes and can see the report findings and recommendations show that things are not all bad AusAID wise, in the past and into the future.

Isn't it grand to be able to discuss it, though?

Phil Fitzpatrick

John Fowke C3TDL - looks elegant.

Enjoyed your books, 'Time of Rain' and 'Kundi Dan'. That's at least two PhD's worth. Isn't there a third one?

Robin Mead

John - As usual you offer incisive insights. Maski wari too much about qualifications - they have their place, naturally, but are no guarantee of anything much - let us not forget that the world is also well-populated by well-qualified (insert your word of choice) wits - ah yes, dimwits.

The recurring theme in all these matters, whether in PNG, Australia or wherever, private sector, public sector, big, small, political or otherwise - is GOVERNANCE.

All discussions are fundamentally disadvantaged unless they include reference to governance, because the participants are otherwise forced to take part in an exercise analagous to pursuing a trolley of melting dessert across a frozen lake wearing gumboots, when what they need is more definition.
That is, metaphorically speaking, they need ice skates, and the conditions need to stay constant to some extent. As long as these matters are a moveable feast, the only beneficiaries are the media and the misbehavers.

Corporate entities tend to look after themselves. Quelle surprise. I'm sure there are good people in the bureaucracies, but who are they? Difficult to know when one's standing outside the citadel. Memo to citadel residents: more illumination, please. Maybe things are better than we think? Please confirm!

If there is some evidenced, demonstrated will to pin things down - even a little - then maybe there's some possibility of constructive response. Otherwise... well, you know how it is.

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