Friday, February 1, 2008

Aid to poor countries

The Japanese fishing example in Fiji reinforces my point in “musings re environment” in my post in 2007, that poor countries are the most vulnerable to environmental degradation. In Australia, public servants are well paid (also get fired easier for corruption), so bribes for fishing are less attractive. And there’s plenty of tax money to manage conservation areas and national parks. And send in the Navy/police if poaching/ rule breaking occurs.

There is pressure by developers to build in scenic areas in Australia, but National parks are large and remain unviolated, which is not the case, even in Thailand.

Most fish poaching is done by Indonesia …. again Poverty is the prime mover.

And Australians have plenty of time and money to enjoy national parks, rather than steal species from them.

So when eg African countries /Indonesia get similar levels of :

accountability, democracy, transparency, lack of corruption, higher standard of living ( allow foreign investment, make it easy for locals to startup and run a company and keep their earnings, have rule of law, protection from violence, low taxes etc) ,

rather than :

Cronyism, corruption, tyranny, unaccountability, high taxes, impossibly complex or restrictive business regulations, bars on foreign investment, govmt nationalization of private enterprises (guaranteeing no future foreign capital will risk itself in the country), Govmt handouts to specific tribes or friends, ineffective police force.

Then their natural environment will suffer less. And their daily lives a lot less hard, more pleasant, prosperous and happy too. People won’t have too eek out a living doing back-breaking work.

Pouring aid money into these countries (most of which finds it’s way into the Swiss bank accounts of the corrupt rulers) will not help. It’s been tried for decades now. It actually makes things worse, by enriching the corrupt local regime and keeping them in power. In the case of food aid, it can make people give up conventional farming, or be used as a weapon by govmts – eg in Somalia in the 90s, when warlords confiscated UN food.

Large NGOs such as Doctors without Borders are not in favour of massive aid programs, for the reasons given above.

Making water wells, bridges and similar physical projects can be of great help.
Giving money / material aid conditional to governance changes and environmental preservation might help. But money has a way of disappearing without any tangible return in those countries. Of being spent on big offices and big cars, and of creating a caste of people who do nothing but hover around govmt officials in order to get a handout.

Mmm…. Sounds like the UN, or also, the EU fatcats in Brussels. I know some French economists have described France as a quasi “Banana Republic”, such is the cronyism and corruption in France.

1 comment:

Marcus said...

It's not as clear-cut as that, Jules. I've been living in third-world countries for over 20 years, so I know a bit about it. Corruption is essentially at the root of poverty in most third-world countries, especially in South America and Africa; but it's incredibly difficult to eradicate. It's almost like a Catch-22 situation: the typical government official doesn’t earn enough from his official salary to even support his family, so he uses bribes as a means of increasing his income. His salary is low because most of the money generated by the natural resources of the country is pocketed by his bosses, who “need” the extra money to maintain a lifestyle that is beyond their means but which their wives and kids will not do without, because they have been used to that lifestyle for generations. So if one lowly official, or one of his bosses, decides to become honest all of a sudden, and refuse bribes of any sort, all that happens is that he finds himself unable to sustain his family to the standard they expect, whereas all his colleagues’ families are doing fine – so not only can he not satisfy his family, but he also diminishes in social status amongst his peers (which is very important in many third world countries, especially in South America)… It would take a concerted effort of every single functionary in the country to become honest all at the same time to resolve the problem… Fat chance of that…

“Making water wells, bridges and similar physical projects can be of great help.”

Yeah, sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it? Hey, we’ve tried it, several times; an example: we (myself and two colleagues) single-handedly funded the construction of a dirt road (driveable year-round) of some 60 km and a critical pontoon-bridge across a river (called, BTW, the San Julian) connecting the agricultural/ranch lands of the Chiquitania with the bustling city of Santa Cruz, thus shortening the distance between the fertile lands and the city by about 150 km (because previously vehicles needed to pass over the nearest existent bridge way to the north), and the travel time by at least 6 hours (rough dirt roads are slow to navigate). Guess what? Local farmers and ranchers eagerly used it until the newly-constructed road and bridge fell into disrepair, whereupon we had no more funds to maintain the route and neither did the locals (or at least if they did, they weren’t prepared to supply them)… So the project, as sensible and simple as it was, ended up failing miserably… (We had even gained an enthusiastic local provincial approval for the whole project – what was less enthusiastic was their providing of funds to maintain it.)

Australia and Canada are truly blessed countries: they have an incredibly low population density, and hence a vast amount of natural resources per capita. It is no coincidence that, a few years ago, an independent organisation elected Melbourne and Vancouver as the two most desirable cities to live in in the world, amongst all the major cities…