Bureaucracy Emasculated by Foreign Aid

The size of the economy has hardly reached US$ 22 billion - its GDP grew by less than 1 percent in fiscal year 2015/16. It imported more than 11 times of exports with a trade deficit of US$ 70. 3 billion. Its tolerated inflation is much higher than o

Sept. 5, 2016, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol 10.No.3, September 02,2016 (Bhadra 17, 2073)

The Google states the purposes of foreign aid as ''official development assistance (ODA) given to promote development and combat poverty". The classically stated purpose, which is still relevant, is to help fill in three primary gaps: the savings and investment gap, the foreign exchange gap and the skills gap, of recipient countries.

Aligning with Google, or believe in classical views, the idea is very simple - to make recipients capable of graduating from aid or, in due course, developing without aid. If this idea were to be applied, aid helps supplement domestic development efforts and further helps a country graduate from aid or develop without aid. This, perhaps, happened in Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, and Thailand. Intensive research done in these and other few countries conclude that if you are not graduated within 20 years from when you started receiving aid, you are likely to be never graduating, meaning aid, as such, displaces domestic development efforts.

Nepal is said to have officially started receiving aid since the early 50s. In nominal terms, aid to Nepal continues to increase every year. It has been more than one and half decades. Where is Nepal? The size of the economy has hardly reached US$ 22 billion - its GDP grew by less than 1 percent in fiscal year 2015/16. It imported more than 11 times of exports with a trade deficit of US$ 70. 3 billion. Its tolerated inflation is much higher than official inflation at 10%.  Its people living below poverty line are estimated to be at 21.6%, and it is one of the poorest countries in the world. Where has aid gone in Nepal? One not only wonders but also blames it on visionless leaders, the proliferated number of political parties, political instability, exclusion, marginalization, castes and ethnicities, unethical private sector, the inept civil service also known as bureaucracy, and so on.

Nonetheless, one rarely looks at another aspect, that is, an aid emasculated bureaucracy. Yes, the implementing real arm of the government, the bureaucracy, has been emasculated by aid. It is an already depressed bureaucracy, working in an environment where private sector sees it as inefficient, politicians never trust or do not listen, and juniors never respect nor honor it.

Aid continues to emasculate bureaucracy. First, aid givers hardly know where the shoes pinch must meaning they come with a package that they feel has worked in other countries, and which they think will work in Nepal. Aid brings in a one-size-fits-all formula that is applied to all ills, and the bureau is forced to accept and adopt it. The package is hardly discussed with the real implementers. Hard pressed with gaining salary increase and career progression, in addition to pursuing commercial, political and strategic motives, aid workers go directly to the political and bureaucratic masters who are higher than the real implementers.

Second, development experimented in a lab is prescribed to replicate in an open environment. Unfortunately, the bureau bows its head and goes along with lab-based developmental theorems and experiments.

Third, some high-ranking public officials get consultancies in the form of commentators or reviewers fees. This bars them from saying 'NO' to aid and its terms and conditions. Aid, thus, emasculates bureaucracy further. When it comes to recruiting consultants, aid either recruits from its source countries or from retirees of the public office or bureau. Those recruited from source countries not only take away a hefty sum out of the aid commitment but also hardly comprehend the country’s context. They end of doing things by reading text books, lab researches or a story of things works perhaps in other countries. Recruited domestically? Some of them were already a lubrication to get aid packages approved thereby helping aid worker to qualify for salary increment and a promotion.

Some who have political connections easily influence the members of the bureau. One thing common about these domestic consultants is that they are hardly hired through competitive exams or in a transparent manner. Another commonality is that they prescribe - and prescribe loud and clear - agendas that they did not implement when they were holding public position. Nepal is continuously indicated as one of the corrupt countries since the 90s by the Global Coalition against Corruption. Most domestically recruited experts or consultants from members of the bureau are of the 90s generation. Those who worked for donors did very little, but teach sitting members about getting rid of corruption or promoting good governance.

Fourth, aid takes advantage of the self-imposed inferiority of the civil servants, thereby sabotaging them. English - the language that aid uses - is not learned in schools, nor is it a second language to many members of the bureau. Aid and aid projects come in English, and experts and consultants speak and write in English, with no option but to say 'YES', even to ideas of which the bureau know less.

Fifth, the bureau gets depressed when its gets a chance to go to the field or travel abroad with aid workers, and international and domestic consultants or experts. The experts enjoy business class travel and five-star accommodation but not the poor members of the bureau; therefore, the latter find their budget imbalanced for many years. Finally, political or elite connection gives a very powerful edge for aid to totally dump or sabotage the bureaucracy to a point where it can never come back or rise. In other words, almost all members of the bureaucracy or government development workers hardly get opportunities to suggest or give feedback to their political  or bureaucratic bosses as to what will work, what did not work, and how things could work, nor are they ever listened at all. However, aid workers, including national and juniors who probably could not compete in Public Service Commission exams and chose to become aid workers are not only listened to, but also greeted at the doorstep.

Someone needs to listen or we will let the bureaucracy get emasculated permanently. As seen by researchers, not 20 years, but some 66 years have already gone by, and many more years are likely to go and be wasted.

The opinion expressed in the article is personal opinion of the writer. He can be contacted at ghimirel@hotmail.com



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