Monday, May 5, 2008

who are we trying to fool?

On May 1st I had a visitor from the UK an American, who was working on his PhD thesis on the effectiveness of INGO’s and Private and Government sector on rural poverty alleviation and development.

My views were unbending on this one. If one excludes one off special cases like wars, natural disasters and extreme poverty and the help they receive from agencies, I am completely opposed to the current form of aid and assistance given by INGO’s and to a lesser extent from NGO’s.

The donor has a particular objective in mind, even though it may not be suitable for the country or area it is intended for. So the administration of the NGO is to ensure only that the donors needs are met, even though it maybe highly detrimental in the long term to the recipient.

Additionally the donors do not want to involve government and private sector as they believe that they work against their objectives, due to corruption or for profit motive, whereas the donor is altruistic, and what actually happens is that there are different bodies and in some cases more than one NGO on the same project, giving much duplication, and hence gross wastage of the limited funds.

In the extreme case I pointed out it is better to go to a rural locality and give each family the same amount of money, therefore not requiring follow-up and administration. Even if 20% of them make use of it, the success rate will be greater than the colossal waste now going on for a lesser return. At least 100% of the funds will go to the village, and some will be used to buy immediate and unnecessary items and others will be wasted in drink, but the few who will usefully use it will really make the money work for themselves, and these people are sometimes not even recipients if the funds were disbursed through a bureaucratic system of administration at the NGO.

I do not need to stress the level of waste in NGO spending primarily in the center to keep up appearances and high overheads, which results in very little of the donors funds being disbursed to the cause of the program.

In the Sri Lankan context there is no shortage of skilled people to manage such programs if the payscales are high enough, so we do not require the number of overseas staff who happen to make a career of the NGO business, and who are very expensive to upkeep with hardship allowances and children’s school fees etc. It is a career in itself to manage an NGO and the writing up of project proposals to get funding and keep funds continuously flowing occupy much of their time as they have to feather their nests before looking at the objectives of what the donor funds should be used.

I was pretty forthright in my opinions in that there is no surprise why these programs are not successful, as they have been set up not for the primary purpose of for example rural poverty alleviation but more for the administrators to run a top-heavy organization in keeping with status. The objective of the donors funds get short shrift and bad evaluations of the fund allocations are sent to the donors, to give a false picture of the real situation.

He has looked at programs in Costa Rica and Guatemala with specific emphasis on the coffee farmer, and tried to see if there were similarities with the tea small holders in Sri Lanka, I told him that in 2008 there were no similarities and with high prices, trying to organize cartels to market their tea in brands to benefit the producers was a non-starter in this country.

However much we have tried to organize labor to help each other out, human nature in Sri Lanka is only to help the underdog, and if the person is successful to try and bring him or her down a few pegs, so no one likes to work together to improve everyone in a co-op as the tendency of one to take advantage for personal gain is very high and therefore a plan of this nature would not succeed.

This gentlemen’s research is funded by the Ford Foundation, and I would humbly present a case that they are wasting their money funding studies, trying to find out why these INGO’s fail. Any success story is down to the altruistic and selfless dedication of individuals who are hard to find and who will carry on in whatever field without personal gain. So success cannot be replicated due to this characteristic.

Another weakness of INGOs is that the funds disbursed are for too short a term to show results and when cut, the project not only does not have a chance of success, but will also hinder future projects, as it would be assumed that due to this short termism, it is better to just disburse and be damned, and therefore take as much for oneself in the process.

Private sector and profit motive seem to be dirty words in the INGO world, but they are the only ways to encourage people to dedicate their time to making a go of a project, as nothing stimulates a person more than greed. It is up to the coordinated efforts of Government and UN agencies as well as INGOs to set up the infrastructure to direct this greed down to the people they wish to see improving.

So for example instead of giving money, they could ensure banks set up pawn broking arms to give a larger share of the value of a pawned gold item at maybe a subsidized rate of interest, to encourage people to value savings in gold for emergencies, knowing they have a lifeline in times of need.

The old adage of anything free is not worth giving, as it is not appreciated, means that any amount disbursed should have a personal commitment attached so a value is put on it and hence an effort is made on the part of the recipient to make it work.

I am beside myself when I see the stupidity of these donors, as they just don’t understand that they can trust rural folk with small amounts, more than administrators with large amounts. Accountability is an issue, all across the disbursements, but is the least problematic at the recipient end, as a thirty percent success should be considered fantastic and the balance is only spent in the community, so there is some cash infusion to the rural economy, so some form of growth takes place, where none of it filters if spent top down.

At the cost of repeating myself, I firmly believe funds should be disbursed directly with no strings attached, and those who have shown a definite return on their investment be given further funding, thus encouraging development over consumption. Those who waste are penalized by the fact that they have not used the funds for the purposes intended so will not get any more. It is a very simple concept with almost no administration cost, and the cost of follow up can be subcontracted out to a local body, and winners audited before any follow up assistance is given. There is no incentive like being rewarded for achievement, so why is this so difficult. Simple, the people in the NGO racket don’t want their power limited.

I also believe that the government should work in tandem to avoid wasteful and duplication of funds for the same purpose, so that the people to be helped can be fully aware that they cannot go with the begging bowl from one charity to another, and know that effort will be rewarded.

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