Aid rethink is long overdue

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday August 5th, 2015

 PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill hit the nail on the head when he revealed plans to get rid of “middlemen and expensive consultants” who use development support funds provided by donor countries.

O’Neill has called for a rethink in the way development support is delivered in the Asia-Pacific. And he wants a better deal for taxpayers of contributing countries, such as Australia, whose money is being squandered by these so-called experts.

He is convinced that one of the biggest obstacles to effective development support comes in the form of middlemen who take commissions on aid expenditure.

In this startling revelation, O’Neill said: “Development assistance has become a billion dollar industry where so much of the goodwill ends up in the pockets of these middlemen and expensive consultants.”

We agree that as a developing country, Papua New Guinea does not want handouts. We don’t want Australian taxpayer money wasted and we certainly don’t want “boomerang aid”. 

As O’Neill said, “I wonder if the people of Australia realise how much of the money they give to help Papua New Guinea and other countries is actually paid to middlemen and lawyers. Papua New Guinea is changing, we are growing and as a nation of eight million people we want to move beyond hand-outs and work with our partners to strengthen capacity.”

It is encouraging to note that there will be a review of support arrangements that will save money for contributing countries and deliver capacity and skills in recipient countries.

Next year, PNG will move to a model where its partners will be welcome to fund positions within the government bureaucracy. 

According to O’Neill, these foreign staff can then work and report through the PNG Government system and will be paid through arrangements with the donor countries. “That will be an effective way to strengthen our Government systems from within so that after a period of time this development assistance will no longer be needed.

“The current support delivery sees foreigners occupying positions where they are actually doing the work that should be done by Papua New Guineans. Then when they end their contracts they do not leave behind capacity or skills. This is not good for Papua New Guinea or the donor country. We need to move to a point that we do not need to take a single dollar from our friends in Australia and other partners as our country develops.”

Moreover, PNG can further expand its development support programme that it provides to other countries in the Pacific following the same principle.

It is understood that the current policing partnership between PNG and Australia will be reviewed to make it more effective for both countries.

The policing partnership programme has been in place for several years now and the benefits are said to be limited due to restrictions placed on the Australian police. There’s no doubt that Australian police officers are committed to strengthening law enforcement in PNG but are frustrated by the bureaucracy, which means they cannot do hands-on policing. 

As O’Neill said: “I cannot imagine being a police officer who is told that if they see a crime being committed he or she has to stand back and watch. We would like to recruit foreign police into line positions within the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary so they can lead by example to pass on their knowledge and skills.”

On the other hand, Defence co-operation is separate from general development support as this is part of facilitating the regional military inter-operability of national forces.

O’Neill says PNG has a very good defence co-operation programme that enables its military to work with Australia, the United States and other countries to improve their joint capacity.

“The Australian Defence Force is working closely with the Papua New Guinea Defence Force to ensure we can deploy our forces to work together. This integrated operational capacity includes preparations for events such as the Pacific Islands Forum and APEC, as well as border management and disaster response deployments.”

We support O’Neill’s assertion that changes in development support policy will deliver better outcomes for all countries involved.

After all, PNG stands to gain from the proposed changes.