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“An honest audit is overdue”

by Kishore Mahbubani


Buddhist ritual in Cambodia

Buddhist ritual in Cambodia

Kishore Mahbubani is a prominent critic of Western complacency. His statements conclude our short series of contributors’ views on the future of technical cooperation. D+C/E+Z engaged in this debate because Germany’s Development Ministry plans to merge its agencies GTZ, InWEnt and DED. [ Interview with Kishore Mahbubani ]

Internationally, poverty has only been successfully fought where the private sector has thrived. How can and should a donor agency best support Asian countries in this respect?
The best way for a Western donor agency to help the private sector in developing economies is to ruthlessly ­examine and expose Western policies which damage the private sector in those countries. For example, there is no doubt that the agricultural subsidies in the EU and the cotton subsidies in the USA are harmful. Oxfam has done a good job of starting the process of critical self reflection in the West. It would be good for German development agencies to become equally critical of destructive Western policies.

The Millennium Development Goals stress progress in specific sectors. How can and should a donor agency for technical cooperation best support Asian countries in this respect?
Asian countries have made remarkable progress. China and India are going to help the world meet the MDG of halving global poverty by 2015. Since many Asian countries have developed the capacity to help themselves, Western donor agencies should drastically cut the portion of their aid that goes to pay for Western administrative support and Western consultants. Western donor agencies should do a brutally honest audit of what percentage of their money actually helps poor developing countries and how much of it benefits rich public servants and consultants from donor countries. An honest audit is long overdue. Germany could lead the way.

The Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action stress the relevance of enhancing government capacities. How can and should a donor agency best support Asian countries in this respect?
The best way for Western donor agencies to help Asian countries enhance their government capacities is to fund Asian students to study in Asia, not in the West. The psychological impact is much greater, as an example will illustrate. For many years, Indonesia sent its urban planners to study European cities. When they returned they inevitably said: “We in Asia cannot do what Europe can do.” All this changed when the same urban planners went to study the Singapore urban planning experience. Once they did that, they began to implement what they learned in Singapore because they said “We in Asia can do what other Asians can do.” This is why European donor agencies should fund the study of Asian government officials in Asian schools of public policy, like the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

Good and responsible governance have figured high on the development agenda ever since the World Bank’s World Development Report of 1997. How can and should a donor agency best support Asian countries in this respect?
Governance is improving in Asia. The response of the Chinese government to the global financial crisis of 2008/9 was much better than the response of the American government. As Asia now provides many good examples of good governance, Western donor agencies should stop sponsoring the visits of Asian public officials to study the European or American experience. Instead, they should sponsor the visits of Asian public officials to other Asian countries to learn from their best practices. For example, few Europeans are aware that the record of the Phnom Penh water authority is far superior to that of any privatised water authority in the United Kingdom. Similarly, the performance of the Port of Singapore Authority is far superior to that of its Dutch counterpart in Rotterdam. Hence, if the goal of the Western donor agencies is to promote good and responsible governance, it should sponsor more visits to Asian countries. The Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy will be happy to partner any Western donor agency in the production of such case studies on the Asian experience.