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Foreign aid: Who gets to decide development priorities?

Aid post
The aid post system in PNG is breaking down & is in dire need of more development assistance


BANGKOK - Emma Wakpi has presented an excellent summary of factors underpinning the success or otherwise of development aid.  So, is this the recipe for success?  And what might it mean in practice?

A question for practitioners on both sides of the donor-recipient equation is who gets to decide development priorities and strategies?  And possibly more importantly, who gets to own the outcomes? The intended recipients - or someone else?

No one would challenge the notion that it is recipient governments that decides its priorities. But I would argue that, even under the most auspicious circumstances, these priorities generally translate into precious little sustainable benefit for people at community level.

If we are concerned about alleviating poverty, creating economic opportunity, addressing health or education indicators we are invariably talking about people who live in rural or peri-urban communities.

In my view the real test of a development assistance model is to deliver the enablers both from the perspective of these communities and which benefit them and their children sufficiently to own the outcomes and sustain the activities.

Much too often aid is owned by someone sitting in an office far removed from its intended actions. Whether that person is a citizen of the recipient country or not, the program will invariably fail its objective.

And too often the objective is narrow and the delivery deeply embedded in a top-down methodology when, at the bare minimum, a robust bottom-up component is required.

There is a place for central agency-driven interventions but in Papua New Guinea I would argue there is a significant role for more holistic community focussed and owned interventions.

These are usually unglamorous, hard work, focussed on the long term, not bankable and rarely the stuff of headlines.

However appropriately designed community owned and driven initiatives across health, education, access to energy, clean water and small enterprise are enablers to sustainable improvements in wellness, empowerment of both sexes and greater ongoing economic opportunity.

Such initiatives don’t happen in a vacuum.  They need support from funders with a sense of vision about how recent and emerging technologies might be applied, how existing resources might value add without disenfranchising people or despoiling the environment and how social enterprise coupled with mobile money might have a valuable a role to play alongside established services.

With reference to the excellent advice offered by Emma, if any development partners are looking to refocus their assistance I would recommend they take a serious look at community driven, multi-sectoral models that empower people, address indicators, create opportunity and in so doing support the national development goals. 


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Philip Fitzpatrick

I reckon God is to blame for the earthquakes Barbara.

She is trying to send a strong message to PNG to stop digging up and chopping down its resources.

Someone should have told her about collateral damage though.

Barbara Short

The roads in Wewak are in a mess. K7 million, meant to repair them, was "given" to the Department of Works, but it appears to have got lost. Did it ever exist? Did some government accountant get confused? What happened to it in the Finance Dept? Why didn't they just "give" it to the ESP Dept of Finance?

I heard that due to a good person-to-person contact Sir Julius Chan takes his money out from the Finance Dept and gets well-trained people to handle the way the money for New Ireland is used. I was shown one example of it, on line, last year, during my holidays, up the north coast.

During the recent catastrophe up in Hela and SHP I heard that the MAF were the people who co-ordinated the AUS planes and their aid drops. Great person-to-person contacts took place.

Many people in Hela and SHP still believe that ExxonMobil is to blame for the earthquakes. There are some incredible theories being spread around as to who is the culprit for these great shakes of the land. Another one occurred yesterday. Well, PNG geologists and others set up a Facebook page where this topic could be discussed. There have been a lot of good person-to-person discussions on what caused the earthquakes. There are some very well qualified PNG scientists who have studied everything there is to know about natural earthquakes. But at the moment there is a lot of research being done on earthquakes that are "man-made" so naturally we need a lot of person-to-person discussions to make certain that we know what is going on in Hela and SHP.

PNG Attitude has helped a lot of PNG writers and the role of journalism is vital for good person-to-person communication. There are now a number of excellent journalists in PNG e.g. Scott Waide, and as far as I'm concerned, the more the better. Younger ones are coming on, they are starting to get the truth out about what is going on in PNG. We need to continue to aid them.

EMTV has shown the way Gary Juffa can speak out in the parliament and after doing a lot of research can expose corrupt practices in the Forestry Department... Due Diligence, Social mapping... Phil's the expert here. PNG Attitude has been a good place for good person-to-person discussion and help in past times. Long may it continue.

Paul Oates

We constantly seem to be in a short circuit loop or 'Back to the Future' scenario.

A few years ago I submitted a suggested scheme whereby AusAid could ensure aid programs were worthwhile and were supported and maintained by the community they were intended to assist.

It was and is still available given a simple internet search.

Using this type of suggested method AusAid successfully supplied pharmaceuticals to PNG rural areas for two years until the Unhealthy Minister and his departmental sycophants corruptly took over the tender process and gave the contract to BP pharmaceuticals. Unreported kickbacks were then noted.

BP who hadn't even tendered, then couldn't actually undertake the process which had to be subsequently augmented by the PNG government and NGO's when this extremely important process descended into a today's debacle.

AusAid was withdrawn from the corrupt tender process and the PM, supporting his corrupt Unhealthy Minister and department, caused the PNG people to fund an extra K70 million that clearly disappeared into a black hole somewhere.

It's not as if this isn't common knowledge. PNG Attitude voiced this information at the time.

I agree with the author who says the aid process should be bottom up but until the rot at the top is removed what chance will there be for ethical aid funding to be successful?

Is the PNG PM prepared to support such a change in direction given the recent experience?

That is the question that should now be asked.

Barbara Short

I think the answer lies in more person-to-person contact.

When it came to the case with Keravat National High School. I started writing a book about this great school and got in contact with the principal, a lovely lady from Bougainville. Sir Paulias Matane and I talked on email just about everyday for years while I wrote the book.

To cut a very long story short, we found that the school was in a terrible state of neglect and hadn't been repaired for ages and it was actually dangerous to continue to use it. So something had to be done.

With some good person-to-person contact we got money to repair it but despite all our best efforts this money was stolen... sadly by one of our ex-students.

But I still asked AusAID to help and they did and after the school had been closed for a year it was finally repaired by AusAID and the school reopened.

But it didn't end there. Sam Koim knew about what had happened and the ex-student who stole the original money was finally put in jail after about 5 years.

It was people who mattered. It was personal. They put in a good principal and soon Keravat NHS was No 1 on the HSC list again.

It is all people-to people contact that gets the ball moving when it comes to improving matters.

I was working away at trying to solve the PNG Health problems again this morning. We know what they are. But now me and my Facebook friends have to work out how to solve them.

The PM knows about Facebook .. he tells the Opposition to get their faces out of Facebook. Ha! The Opposition is alive and well on Facebook!

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