There has been much talk and discussion about Chinese Aid in the Pacific, including Vanuatu.
More recently, Australia’s Minister of International Development, Concetta Ferravanti-Wells criticized Chinese aid.
It seems that some Australians would like us to think that Chinese Aid only brings bad things and unnecessary things — roads to nowhere and constructing useless buildings.
China is a relatively new player in the aid game, the Australians and the Americans having been around much longer.
That does not mean that they should not be involved or that they should follow the established methods. The Chinese aid differs with the Australian, NZ and others in that it is not given with “strings attached” – they do not try and change the recipient government’s way of governing or demand that things be done their way. Tis may be right or wrong, depending on which way you look at it.
Some of us would say, great, they minding their own business but they want to help us – give us a road, a stadium or whatever. Others say that they should only give us those things if we change the way that we do this or that, to their liking.
There is place for both, the Australians and others concentrate on capacity building and good governance, and in the past, also many infrastructure projects. Their funding of infrastructure is now limited but still extensive, and they are being overtaken by the People’s Republic of China Government’s aid, either as soft loans or as grants.
The other thing that makes China aid attractive is that from inception to construction, a project will be done in about 2 years, or at the request of the recipient government, sooner. With ADB, World bank, Australian aid, this can be as long as 9 years, normally around 7.
The cost of the projects in the meantime escalates, so when you plan it, it costs a lot less than the actual costs 7 years later.
So there are a number of benefits with China aid:
• No interference with domestic politics
• Focus on infrastructure development (roads to somewhere)
• Relatively small time from project inception to implementation
• More money spent on actual project (with western-style aid a lot of the money ends up with consultants – design, supervision, supervision of supervisors). China aid requires the contractor to design to the clients standards and specifications, so the contract is typically design and build.
The allegations of corruption in government can apply to all development projects. This can not however be leveled just against the Chinese. And while many wild allegations are made, they remain simply that, allegations.
Only a fool will say there is no corruption, something that seems to go hand-in-hand with power and large amounts of money, and of course, the natural tendency of greed. This is not new and certainly throughout history it has been well documented. For example Judas and his 30 pieces of silver to give up the Lord.
These accusations, while they may have some basis in truth, cannot be aimed only at the Chinese. Nor are the China aid projects plagued by corruption as some claim.
It is simply racist remarks and there are certainly racist overtones.
So what has the Chinese Government being doing in Vanuatu?
The Korman Stadium is a high-profile project that we are all aware of and this was a gift from the Chinese Government.
Not just the stadium, they also provided vehicles to transport the athletes and officials during the games as well as training our athletes.
The 190 athletes that were trained in China for six months before the games, and the 15 coaches that attended to these athletes just prior and during the games, resulted in the record 24 gold medals for Vanuatu and the many silver and bronze.
The Chinese Government helped us achieve our potential. Previous games saw us with only 5 or 6 gold medals. The Chinese help here has obviously made a difference, with the unbelievable difference in the medal tally.
Another interesting fact with Korman Stadium is the capacity and performance of the Chinese contractor. Nobody believed that the stadium and its supporting facilities would be completed on time.
Yet it was completed! We Ni-Vans are not used to working long hours, and this fact alone caused us to marvel at the unbelievable ability of the Chinese contractor to work day and night to complete the project on time.
One cannot help but compare the diligence of the Chinese workers compared with some others. The urban development project for developing the city roads seems to be dragging on for ever; Had that contractor been Chinese there would no doubt be a huge outcry as to how slow and chaotic that project is progressing.
The Australian contractor doing the work however attracts very little criticism.
So while some Australian politicians criticise the Chinese Government aid given to our Government, we know that what to them is a “road to nowhere” is in fact a road to our homes; it gives us access to the markets and to government services. It makes the lives of our women and children better and easier.
The Tanna people see the significance of the work and are happy that it is progressing at a good rate. The Australians should look closer at how they deliver their projects.