Why it is that Governments, Donor countries and Aid Agencies think they have a right to bully Vanuatu into accepting development in return for huge contracts that get milked right back to nothing?
Not by taking away the principal? No that would be too obvious.
What they do is inflate the debt to be repaid, milk the system of cash to whomever needs to be paid off to achieve the deal in the first place, take longer than warranted and generally end up short when the contract is finally accepted, because they have taken so long in the first place.
The entry cost to play is very high but so are the stakes organisations using government and institutional money to fund their projects. Don’t believe for a minute that they are here for you. They are in BIG Business.
People are being screwed by this mentality because we have let it happen over such a long period of time that it has become endemic.
Crises and catastrophes have become more frequent, putting more and more pressure on organisations to seek consultants to fill roles that once were voluntary. They became entangled with donor agencies and work on non-emergency projects, such as climate change.
Take the roads in Port Vila: We started with 23 kms and $US 50 million and a nice proper surface, footpaths and all the bells and whistles, to a delayed project by 5 years with 3 surveys being conducted and only a light dusting on 13 kms of road and a small bell with a whistle costing $8 million USD for work and $42 million USD in disbursements. Where does all our money go in these projects and why?
It’s big business.
NGOs have turned themselves into big business. Where some—and by some I mean most—charge a percentage of a program grant to facilitate the grant. Then they pay all their consultants and running costs from what is left of the grant of which in theory they have already been paid. This often leads to only a minority of the gross being actually delivered to site/program.
Sadly this is an accepted fact of life and yet due to these mentalities that has developed over time and become accepted as the social norm.
A classic example of what a consultant will give you: Meaningless drivel with unfounded facts based on theory with no real practical experience to offer any common-sense to developing programs.
Granted, some are very good, but not worth so much money that countries like ours have to resort to income tax to pay for their collective inefficiencies and inabilities to deliver.
We must not lose the sight of the fact that the countries receiving the funds have become so systematic in ripping the system off that between the need for the Donors to feel generous and the NGOs to feed the administrative beast that has been created and the people in positions of power to facilitate, they have all forgotten one thing: In the end, who pays for it? We the people do.
We allow projects for example like the ones being offered by China, in return we give away fishing licences and they give us a fishing plant and we give them unfettered access for their workers and they give us an in operational fish processing plant that doesn’t create any new jobs and in return we give them all our tuna stocks and in return they open a fish processing plant and don’t even process the fish in it just transport them and repack them into a container and back to the main wharf.
We accept their assistance in good faith, and then that became debt, and then that becomes new taxes. Un-thought-out taxes that are needed to raise revenue to pay for what we thought was aid in the first place.
One possible solution to combat this current problem affecting us here in Vanuatu is to adopt a concept put forward by Glen Craig of Pacific Advisory. On coffee and controversy he suggested a “Tiger Team”, five or so of the best Civil Servants we have working specifically on urgent projects. They must be apolitical and work directly under the PM’s Office.
They would take the lead in fast-tracking all major projects, liaising between departments and ministers to prevent time wasting and ensure continuity regardless of the political turmoil. It would create stability within the government of the day, no matter who that happens to be.
They would provide the conduit between private development and major donor partners, working on a limited number of projects to a fruitful conclusion then move onto the next project/s as they come on the books.
This would also provide a dedicated team to assisting at times of National Disasters like TC Pam.
We need a means to get better bang for our Aid buck and this is a possible way forward, providing the political will is there to allow non-political actors protect our development and maximise our yield.
It is important to note that NGO’s should not be stereotyped. Many do great work for the community and with minimal fuss, contributing their own money in some cases in pursuit of helping others. For this they must be recognised and applauded. However the big big business NGOs are like sunscreen—we only need them because of the environment we created. We only have ourselves to blame.
We need better thought out programs for our infrastructure with men and women whom wish to better the country and not just themselves. We need to lose the politics from it yet maintain the political will and build a better Vanuatu with our Donor Partners not create our own hell.