If I were a minister

Civic Action19 Dec 2011Wieck Wildeboer

Sometimes I imagine I were a serious Minister of Finance in a Sub-Saharan country in charge of coordinating foreign aid. Being a serious Minister I (of course) read The Broker and cannot but be utterly astonished by the number of (I)NGOs, think tanks, research institutions and universities, subsidized in the West, that are out there to solve my problems. With this intellectual capacity and goodwill, surely, a more constructive contribution to the solution of my problems must be possible? Fortunately, I find a fellow African has just set the agenda for such a contribution.

In his blogpost INGO’s: weak at influencing power shifts, Dr. Malunga identifies the key causes of poverty in Africa as “bad or greedy leaders who put self before the people, a culture of citizens of accepting a negative status quo rather than fighting for change and an unfair trade system that is biased against Africa.”

I would like to add that this African situation exists within a global economic system based on market-driven economies with a substantial role for private entities. As “bad and greedy leaders put self before people”, those private entities put profits, shareholder prices and bonuses before public goals, as became clear during the present financial crises in the US and Europe. In the fight against poverty and for more equality in the distribution of wealth, (I)NGOs should aim to create countervailing powers which hold bad leaders to account and see to it that the activities of private enterprises are kept in line with public goals. That also seems to be the ‘gut feeling’ of the current Occupy Movement. (I)NGOs should move closer towards this movement in order to channel it into a real power base.

Generally speaking it seems that global and one issue (I)NGOs (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc) are more influential than ‘development’ (I)NGOs with their multiple objectives and limited geographical base. It is recognized that many of their objectives are interdependent, but it proves to be difficult to tackle all, especially when macro-policies are not conducive to one or more of those objectives, which is often the case.

To gain influence, (I)NGOs may have to globalize and pool their resources along single issues such as finance, energy, food, natural resources, etc. Cooperation of research institutes and universities will have to be established in order to create a power base, aiming to increase the accountability of individuals and private entities.

Finally, I would like to refer to one of my earlier blogposts, Towards performance based financing in development assistance, where a different financial mechanism is proposed to create some accountability before disbursement of aid funds. Governments of developing countries would not receive funds on the basis of their plans or intentions, but on the basis of actual performance.