One size should not fit all

Normal, Weekender

WORKING with the devil you know, at the expense of those you don’t, is a very short-sighted policy and  using this as a maxim to decide who gets  development funding, will never lift PNG out of its present  development difficulties.
Yes, it is agreed that large donors who want to improve the socio-economic development of impoverished nations want the assurance that their funds are being put to good use and that stipulated objectives are met.
But this can backfire quite badly if a selected few are allowed to monopolise available funding. In the absence of competition, costs (profits) are pushed up and competition stifled.
The commitment of the large grant donors is meant to encourage the smaller farmers or the smaller entrepreneurs but that commitment will count for nothing if it’s tied to preferred size.
Years ago in London, I attended a meeting to discuss the grants procedures of the British Department of the Overseas Development Administration (ODA). It soon emerged that 85 % of the annual funding pie was consumed by the so-called ‘Big Two’…Oxfam and Actionaid. The many other small British NGOs had to share the remaining crumbs…the other 15 %.
In the ensuing dog fight, ODA, Oxfam and Actionaid were accused of not practising what they preached which, essentially, was to redress the existing imbalance between the poorer and richer socio-economic strata by first  fixing  that very imbalance between themselves and the smaller NGOs.
The ‘Big Two’ sought to cover themselves by pointing to their efficiency track records, while the smaller NGOs were able to point to their own smaller overheads. Both were sound arguments that were in themselves quite justifiable, but neither offered an overall resolution.
The surge in the number of in-country NGOs in many of the developing societies, and their particular individual merits is complicating the situation even further. For example, many of the newer PNG NGOs are staffed by committed, well qualified people who are familiar with the local cultures and customs who can make better use of available funds than foreign strangers.
But the locals are shut out because they are denied the very funds that would allow them to demonstrate successful track records. Instead, the larger expatriate NGOs or expatriate-run private agencies operating in PNG are virtually handed the funding on a platter. To make things worse, the expats rub salt into the wound by hiring locals and paying them at a much lower rate than expat labour.
What is needed is a different grant distribution system that will bring the smaller players to the table. That will benefit everyone.
Donors could, for instance, set aside a proportion of their funds to give the smaller NGOs a leg up. The incentive for the donor could be the project-specific expertise offered by the smaller bidders. There may well be a host of other alternatives that would reduce the imbalance and the ill-feeling; and we all need to hear about them. One size does not fit all. And, increasingly, it is being universally acknowledged that small is beautiful!

Please pass your suggestions onto PAUL HUKAHU, Director of PEGS-PNG  mobile no.71208244; e-mail: [email protected]  so that a joint small National NGO recommendation might be submitted to the donors operating in PNG.