Inept leadership, perpetually looking for shortcuts, has been begging for aid for most of our history. The result: problems and debt both pile up while donors do all manner of experiments and leave a mess behind.
Our leaders run to Saudi Arabia on a quarterly basis, begging for oil and aid. Other donors have also learnt to experiment with policy in a country whose leadership is asleep and ready to sign anything for a few million dollars. Photographs appear in the papers on a daily basis of our leaders sitting in some ceremony with junior aid officials. In a subtle manner the donor establishment says that our officialdom, including ministers, is at par with junior employees of these donors. What do we expect when begging is our only policy?
There was a time when money was given for building a Mangla or a Tarbela. Now donors have learnt that their money can buy much more when governments and societies have been dumbed down and aid addiction has set in. They have policies! They have ideas! More importantly they have now developed bureaucracies with a mind and a career motive. Why should these bureaucracies not run countries?
Armed with oodles of money and stature and faced by an inept government machinery, these donor bureaucrats – petty officials with no real prospects of alternative employment – are now excitedly running Pakistan. They can experiment with no regret. All mistakes belong to Pakistan; all credit goes to them. For example, the IPP policy was initiated by such donor officials who even privately profited from it. Pakistan continues to pays the price to date while the World Bank is never questioned for poor policy design.
Similarly the World Bank is not held responsible for the public sector reform programme that sent DMG officials on a sojourn in Boston at huge cost to Pakistan. Nor are they held accountable for the Tax Administration Reform Programme (TARP) that wasted 10 years and about $150 million. DFID too does not take any responsibility as it throws in money to back the TARP of the World Bank.
DFID has funded the SBP to get into development issues such as housing and small and medium enterprise development even as IMF counsels an independent SBP focused on inflation. But who will question them?
USAID’s arrogance knows no bounds. Their officials visit Pakistan on ‘tours’ of six months to a year and refuse to come out of their bulletproof posh houses. They interact with nothing Pakistani. Even their water and toilet paper is imported from the US. But they also do nothing. They give huge contracts – hundreds of millions of dollars – to so-called contractors – firms of friends and retired aid officials. A graveyard of these projects exists somewhere yet several ex-EAD secretaries do not even know the names of these firms. After all, in retirement these contractors could employ them.
With so much failure around them, donors are quick to reinvent their narrative. Of course, the blame is all on the locals who are seen as corrupt, inept and stupid.
Now the donors have prescriptions in their back pockets and have no need to understand society or local conditions. They merely need to advocate their policies in newspapers, television etc to convince us that they have the truth.
Advocacy! Does that remind you of something? History repeats itself. Nineteenth century: the missionaries were here to convert us to Christianity because of course the natives needed enlightenment. So with missionary zeal they advocated conversion. The early missionaries, more dedicated, did educate us in the bargain.
Gone are those days of dedicated missionaries. We live in the age of outsourcing and the private sector. So instead of missionaries we have consulting firms and contractors made up of cronies of aid establishment – friends and old colleagues. At huge cost they run these programmes.
No one at any economic ministry has any idea of how many there are and how they are run or why they are there. Yet millions of dollars are being wasted here while our universities, schools and hospitals starve for funds. There is money for advocacy but not for fixing them.
The advocacy movement run purely by donors faces no pushback from anyone in the country as all researchers are employed by donors or have the potential to be employed by them.
On the face of it these advocacy programmes seem innocuous, often addressing ‘motherhood and apple pie’ topics. So why complain? Well, two reasons. First, such top-down approaches based on altruism of donors and their consultants are flawed in their conception. Second, our immediate problem is that the state machinery has eroded to a point where it is failing to deliver on all fronts. The priority now is to rebuild the state not advocate to the broken assuming that it is not broken.
Advocacy merely assumes that nothing is wrong with the state and preaching alone will make good things happen.