Thursday, 10 July 2008

Look harder, Lockhart

June's Prospect carried an article by Clare Lockhart, co-author of Fixing Failed States. She argues that the aid system has failed:

  • It's wasteful since so much is spent on overheads
  • Recipients cannot hold NGOs to account
  • Projects are not thought through with business rigour
  • Aid can undermine reconstruction through, for example, distortionary wages

In place of NGO bumph, she argues for greater funding of developing country government activities: "At the heart of the problem lies the failure of the aid system to invest in the restoration - or establishment - of a functioning government, market and civil society."

She's right the system has failed. But her analysis of why it's failed is wrong.

The heart of the problem is actually that the aid system is over-ambitious, unaccountable, opaque, unco-ordinated and not incentivised to succeed. Rather than striving to remake society, aid agencies should try to be effective in achieving specific well-defined goals (such as "Build a road from A to B").

Clare's approach is statist - she calls for "sustained commitments" to governments for "ten to 15 years or more". But, as she notes, aid currently failes to complete even relatively small-scale projects, like building schools (in Afghanistan only 6 out of 140 that had been promised delivered on time). how can it be expected to achieve something so much more ambitious?

What's her suggestion for keeping these externally-funded governments in check? Aid agencies to be made more accountable to beneficiaries.

But this will never happen as long as someone else is paying their wages. Instead, aid agencies must be made more accountable to donors and tax-payers - only we can really demand more.

No comments: