The developed world spends
nearly $60 billon US
annually in aid to developing countries and yet there appears to be no end to
the poverty and despair which the aid is supposed to alleviate. The slogans
continue – “Make Poverty History”, “Cut infant
mortality in half by 2015”, etc., but real sustainable progress is
difficult to discern. Why does all this money seem to go into a bottomless pit?
And where can we turn for ideas to increase the effectiveness of our aid?
Perhaps we should look at
ourselves in the developed world and ask what it is that brings us our
prosperity that appears to be lacking elsewhere.
One concept, encapsulated in a
single word, is largely present in the developed world, but is often weak or
missing elsewhere: accountability. Accountability is the simple notion that we
are held accountable for our deeds and actions. We respect the rules or pay a
price for breaking them.
Accountability can be defined
as “forces beyond our control that cause us to think and act in a certain
way.” Accountability in the developed world is built into our daily
lives. Our performance at work must be satisfactory in order to keep our jobs.
We must pay our bills on time if we want to enjoy good credit. We respect
traffic lights and speed limits if we want to avoid traffic tickets and demerit
points on our licenses. In each situation, when we break the rules there is a
reaction by someone whom we do not control, but who has the capacity to pass
judgment and impose a penalty on us. These are only three examples of a complex
web of accountabilities which we have developed to build a prosperous society
founded on ethical behaviour.
Accountability is all around
us. The private sector is held accountable by competition and by government
regulation. While the competitor is beyond the control of the business manager,
we cannot say that government regulation is always beyond the control of the
business manager. If a company can influence government regulation to provide
it with a special benefit, e.g. government tenders written to meet the
specifications of the company's product, then government regulation is no
longer a force beyond the company's control.
For governments, however,
there are no competitors and their own regulations are obviously not beyond
their control. So where is the accountability for government? In a democracy,
governments are accountable to Parliament. Parliamentarians are elected by their
constituents to publicly oversee the government. Every political party seeks to
form government and obtain a majority in Parliament at election time to support
its agenda. That, coupled with rules designed to reward support of government
and punish individuality, ensures that Parliament is not a force completely
beyond the control of government.
Parliaments have evolved as
the democratic overseers of government with four specific
- To publicly debate and approve legislation granting
the government authority to manage society and deliver services.
- To publicly debate and grant authority to government
to raise necessary funds through taxation (the budget).
- To publicly debate and grant authority to the
government to spend money on specific services and programs for society
- To require government to report to Parliament in a
When Parliament is
independent, i.e. beyond the control of government, it acts for the benefit of
the electorate to ensure that government delivers focused programs, lower
taxation and a growing healthy economy.
While all Parliaments are
influenced by government, the question is to what degree? How independent is
Parliament? How well is the electorate informed by a
free and open media, and are elections fair and honest to keep parliamentarians
In the developed world,
Parliaments are a reasonable independent, open, and transparent check on
government, hence our prosperity. For the rest of the world, Parliaments are
dominated by their governments – one-party states being a common example
of a compliant Parliament. Bribery and coercion of parliamentarians often
ensure that Parliament is not a force beyond the control of government.
Intimidation of parliamentarians, including jail or assassination guarantees
the lack of accountability.
A compliant Parliament may be
a wonderful thing for those in power but it produces an impoverished society.
When people in government steal their nation's taxes with impunity, there is no
accountability, Parliament has failed to exercise democratic oversight and
society breaks down.
It would therefore seem that
foreign aid should focus on instilling the concepts of democratic oversight by
well-functioning and independent Parliaments in the developing world.
Building domestic accountability of a government will make the government
listen to its citizens.
No one votes for poverty,
infant mortality, illiteracy, inadequate health care, sub-standard housing and
non-existent municipal services, but when corruption is out of control, that is what the people receive.
Lack of accountability of
government ensures that corruption is alive and well. Theft of state assets by
people in power continues unchecked, and the impoverished masses have little
hope of their governments being responsive to their needs.
Foreign aid by itself is
laudable, but aid by itself is not sufficient. Improved governance and
accountability of governments must be part of the solution.