Monday, May 31, 2010

Let's not scapegoat consultants and miss the deeper ill in our aid programme


It is an important element of our right to transparency and accountability in governance that there is, rightly, outrage both in Australia and in Papua New Guinea about the recently publicised, disgustingly high rates of tax free dollars that are used to remunerate ‘consultants’ in the  Australia aid programme.  

On a number of levels I find the ‘valuing’ of work in this way obscene. 

We don’t value, and therefore remunerate, community and family care for:  children, differently abled, older people, many in this community, and indeed in PNG, in a comparable financial way. 

Yet of course we could argue that this work, which is dominated by women and girls, is of more value to the way our countries actually function day to day than the terms of reference for many of these aid consultancies.  

What is also disturbing is that those consultants pay no tax either in Australia or in PNG.  Do they not drive their cars on PNG roads?…who pays for that upkeep? 

Do they not use government provided, taxpayer funded services in Australia

Why are they exempt from paying tax to support those services? Many people have tried to explain it to me but I just don’t get it.

However, let this not mask a deeper and more menacing problem. 

Similarly to many other sectors, Australia’s aid programme has been increasingly commercialised and commodified over the last 25 years. 

 As the scourge of neo-liberalism has seen publicly controlled roles such as prison management, local government building surveying regulation, public transport, and public roads all fall into private hands, so has our aid program. 

Where the motive, make no mistake, is profit.  And so the system peddles one of many false assumptions in aid delivery… that people commanding big bucks will run the aid program better than those demanding less.  

Where does that leave the bulk of Papua New Guineans? 

Implicit in this practice is the notion that because they cannot compete for these kinds of consultancies, their knowledge is not valued, and of use, to the delivery of Australian aid? And where is the accountability of those commanding the big bucks? 

To the shareholders of the commercial aid contractors. 

Not to the taxpayers who contribute to the aid coffers.   

So commercialism muddies the accountability of what gets done, and by whom. 

And actively excludes the people with whom we should be engaging and which international research and wisdom tells us time and time again….the people who have to live by the consequences of the decisions, should be involved in making those decisions. 

That is established and documented good development practice everywhere and actually common sense (if you can disentangle the dominance of the neo-liberal paradigm). 

 It ain’t, as they say, rocket science.

Now we find ourselves in a kind of double whammy in PNG.   

The aid that we do, and have done, has really not had the kinds of impacts, has not contributed enough to improving life on the ground in that country, that we in Australia, and Papua New Guineans, have a right to demand or expect from the billions of dollars we have spent there.  

Not only that, but  we have also further undermined local development efforts by  affecting the context in which aid is carried out in that country, including such things as exorbitant salaries paid to consultants.

 Ask any Papua New Guinean, employed or otherwise, who is trying to live in Port Moresby, about housing costs. 

And we think we have it bad here! 

Perks such as housing provision for expatriate staff in both the considerable aid and development sector and the private sector, have driven prices up in the relatively small rental market in Moresby so that it is simply out of reach of the vast majority of Papua New Guineans.  (Goodness knows how the influx of expatriates as part of the LNG project will further exacerbate this problem.) 

You can begin to think through for yourself the kinds of repercussions this situation brings…law and order issues, food security, infrastructure pressures, a city increasingly divided along class, race and sex lines…but hey, we don’t have to live by the consequences of these decisions. 

Papua New Guineans do.

So not only do we not “do” aid very well, and it costs us an arm and a leg with such things as obscenely high consultancy costs, but we also don’t even “do no harm”. 

Our aid programme actually makes things worse for local people.

 Papua New Guineans have plenty of their own issues to deal with at present.

 Let’s not give them another job of cleaning up the mess that our aid programme leaves behind.

Let us use the scandal that is huge consultancy fees in our aid programme to demand better of our government’s contribution to aid and development which is, after all, for our mutual common good. 

And let’s do it in ways which we know are useful…the Millennium Development Goals told us what to do in 2000, the Paris declaration on development effectiveness in 2005 told us what to do, the Accra accord on aid in 2008 told us what to do. 

We need to make meaningful bridges between ourselves, see the connection between the way we live our lives here and the way life gets lived in many developing communities,  underpin these relationships  with Patrick Dodson enunciated values such as mutual equality, respect and love, and ensure that the people most affected have a role in shaping their own solutions. 


And meanwhile let’s at least try and ‘do no harm’.

 That’s the least I can expect from my aid programme. 

And actually I think we can do a whole lot better than that. 

But we have to start doing things differently;  development  as it is currently dished up, in many parts of indigenous Australia and in many programs of our bilateral aid programme is not only not working, it is making things worse. 

We know what to do.

 Let’s have the courage and political will to do it.

And the energy and insight of my fellow citizens to demand it.  

  • Deb Chapman was a domestic and international community development worker for 30 years, including 10 years in Papua New Guinea,  currently lecturing at Victoria University in Melbourne, and who is poorer, but happier, that she has never undertaken an AusAID consultancy because she doesn’t like the power dynamics, and accountabilities, underlying that kind of work.  


1 comment:

  1. Masking false assumptions in Australia's aid delivery..