> By Mark Thomson <http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/author.asp?id=4484>
> posted Thursday, 9 November 2006
> In recent years Australia has imposed a governance aid strategy in the
> South Pacific and the issue has come to the fore in recent weeks with
> media reports of disagreements between Prime Minister Howard and the
> leaders of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.
> I believe it is a mistake for aid to be granted to small dependent
> nations conditional on their acceptance of policies that serve our
> national interest, nor should it be about weaker countries bargaining
> away their national sovereignty on the grounds of our aid generosity,
> nor should it be about stepping in to take over the operation of
> poor-performing post-colonial administrative systems on national
> security grounds.
> With the best of intentions, we do not get local ownership and
> sustainable outcomes this way. We can have the effect of disempowering
> key actors and home-grown processes for positive change if we take
> management leadership.
> Despite the potential for short-term security and governance gains, we
> can easily undermine the confidence of counterparts that they can
> their own business in the longer term. The temptation for weak
> governments to agree to this approach is strong as there is a
> that financial and other resources will flow as a consequence.
> Australia should be looking for opportunities to revise the current
> mindset, in terms that underline we are serious about partnerships and
> that our engagements are for mutual benefit.
> The standard aid language of "sustainable development" and "poverty
> reduction" - noble objectives in the right context - are somewhat
> nebulous notions in providing a framework for partnership with
> developing countries.
> The benchmarks for measuring progress are often loaded with
> and values that smack of paternalism, cultural projections and
> modelling that should make us uncomfortable. In the process we run the
> risk of applying stereotypical definitions and development formulas to
> diverse societies that defy simplistic analysis.
> For example, Australia takes little account of the role of the local
> community in defining our aid relationship with these countries.
> Traditional village-based societies retain complex communal
> customary land ownership systems and traditional social strategies
> sustain people without reference to the organs of state. They can and
> define and measure development and poverty in differing ways.
> As a genuine development partner we need to operate from a profound
> understanding of the fundamental underpinnings and aspirations of
> countries. This requires the application of serious scholarship in the
> formation of policy and strategies.
> Our bilateral aid programs should assist partners to manage their own
> business, through developing their capability to meet security, legal,
> institutional and administrative needs and to train personnel
> systematically at every level (national and sub-national) in the
> requisite skill sets. We should take every opportunity to enable civil
> society and government to interact for the benefit of local
> The term "aid" is really a misnomer - even in the case of small island
> states our engagement should be about development partnerships to
> up mutual interests. Investments in these areas should be explained to
> the Australian people in these terms. Any instability in our region is
> threat to our geo-political and economic interests. Even the small
> countries command large sea areas open to misuse.
> The whole notion of aid in this context is paternalistic and outdated.
> It presumes that along with the wealth of resources we have in
> abundance, the legal and institutional framework we have inherited
> European forbears, we have all the answers for those unfortunate
> not to have our resource base or our institutional heritage. I would
> suggest that recent history more than debunks that myth.
> A huge divide exists between enabling people to run their own lives,
> make their own mistakes and to determine their own futures, and the
> paternal controller mode that sees centralist systems managing and
> delivering all government functions.
> This is especially so when the controller mode is grafted on and
> reinforced through external interventions. In Papua New Guinea the
> performance of the post-colonial administration, which is a confused
> hybrid of centralised and decentralised systems, combined with low
> capacity levels of public servants, has left a populace that distrusts
> central government. Community disillusionment and a sense of
> disempowerment are growing. This feeds civil unrest and crime.
> The centre can provide a coherent and efficient policy and budget
> management platform, but it is fruitless if good governance principles
> and resources are not applied locally and if local user groups cannot
> engage government.
> A pivotal role for civil society and government interaction is to
> legitimise and manage central resource planning and distribution. By
> contrast, the current aid strategy can be characterised as imposing
> central governance, global market prescriptions, more white faces,
> police and what was the question again?
> The outcome is a form of re-colonisation by default, which can sap the
> confidence of local people to run their own country. Efficient and
> central resource management is vital, but only in as much as it
> facilitates local participation and accountable and equitable service
> delivery on the ground. It is important to get palpable improvements
> local people to legitimise the process in their eyes.
> The crux of the Melanesian problem is weak institutions and chronic
> of working systems, poor management and training capacity and a lack
> bridges to the people in their villages.
> Through an insidious form of cultural imperialism there is a risk of
> whittling away respect for Melanesian identity. For instance, there is
> tendency on the part of many Australians operating in Melanesia to
> over-simplify, undervalue and even demonise wontok or reciprocity
> systems, but these are the cement that binds customary society. Reform
> processes must work within these cultural parameters, not outside
> A failure to value traditional culture has seen the baby go out with
> bathwater, with young people in particular feeling disenfranchised.
> cultural devaluing process can alienate young people from their
> moorings, leaving them disengaged, owing allegiance to nothing and
> measuring success by the acquisition of material cargo.
> An integrated approach is needed to strengthen systems and resources
> management at all levels of government. It is essential to emphasise
> value local participation and ownership, to strengthen home grown
> training capacity and to focus a large slice of Australia's program on
> the hard yards of service decentralisation and local user group