Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The question of aid: Radio National's Counterpoint

I kind of half listened to this programme too, while scrubbing the vegetable curry pot and the old faithful rice cooker. It seems you can listen to it across the internet but not download it.

Jeffrey Sachs, pictured, of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, discusses some of the big questions about aid with some guy called Wolfgang Kasper, of the Centre for Independent Studies in Canberra (which sounds suspiciously like a right wing think tank). If I remember correctly, he points out that America gives only 3 cents in every hundred dollars of its economy in aid to Africa, and one cent is on food aid, one American consultants' salaries, and one is spent on what might be termed true development assistance. Wolfie takes the sceptic's approach which is sometimes attractive, for example when it's put by Paul Theroux in Dark Star Safari, but always so difficult to evaluate from our armchairs in our little bubble. This is another blogger's summary of what Theroux says there:
'Labor-intensive projects are extremely rare in Africa because of self-serving foreign "aid" that require "purchases of machinery have to be made in the donor country, or that bids be restricted to firms in the donor country, or that a time limit be placed on the scheme which encourages the tendency towards large contracts and heavy spending on equipment." Paul also verifies what I had first read about in Jim Roger's Adventure Capitalist. All of the used clothing donated to churches to be distributed to "poor Africa" becomes merchandise the second the cargo ship leaves the port. When it reaches its destination it's purchased in large blocks by merchants who resell them. The author picks up some "new" clothes himself in order to avoid looking like a tourist. His T-shirt read "Top-Notch Plumbing". Of course, all this "good-well aid" does nothing but to hurt Africa's economy. There was a time, not too long ago, when some of the best tailors in the world were in Africa. But how can you be a tailor when the West sends clothes over for practically free? Why be a farmer when the West wants to feed you for free? What's the best industry in Kenya? Coffins. Coffin-making is a booming industry. In one area of Malawi the people are growing their own Maize crops but are using hybrid seeds resulting in big plants but sterile seeds. The farmers can't set aside plants as seed corn because they are all sterile! As Theroux says, "Without free seeds each year these people would starve."'
Granted, this doesn't have a lot to do with Bali, though Australia does have quite a few projects in Bali within its $302 million aid package to Indonesia for 2005-2006, and Bali seems to be a very corrupt place indeed, so the "Is it worth it?" question is relevant on that front. Australia's Foreign Minister promised $1 million to help the Balinese hospitals about two weeks ago.

[If you didn't already click on "right wing think tank", do it now.]
[Thanks to Macam-Macam for the link to the Corruption Perception Index.]


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