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Towards meaningful spending

  • Published at 05:58 pm September 26th, 2018
A bill too big for Bangladesh to foot
A bill too big for Bangladesh to foot Photo: MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

The changing landscape of development

The words “transparency” and “efficiency” have been doing the rounds in the development sector for quite a while, but the centrepiece focus appears to now to be “meaningful.” 

The main contributing factors have been the growing insistence of the United States for organizations to clear up the clutter and cut out the fat -- evinced by the country’s withdrawal from UNESCO, and suspending funding for UNRA. And it follows, naturally, that the UN, World Bank, and IMF reforms follow suit. 

Another realistic cause is that affluent countries are grinding out their affluence a bit too thinly on their own population. Jobs and economic decline are what caused the Brexit referendum to take place in the first place -- an increased flow of immigration eats in to the scarce jobs that are available, resulting in a country such as the UK having real wages out of sync with inflation and costs.

Apart from the wasteful and at times sheer unnecessary spending, politicians are beginning to ask what they’re getting in return for such assistance. Of late, the influx of refugees from conflict-torn areas has raised fundamental questions -- whether aid to develop economies has actually worked. There are big “yes” and “no” answers.

Conflict doesn’t happen out of the blue -- they latch on to “strategic interests” of groups and countries, and the same conflicts prolong simply because funding for them is available. Which is why development agencies are now being asked to add a new feature to their strategy; humanitarian assistance followed by development spending. 

This is a direct result of the corruption and distorted views of development spending by the main actors themselves, which might sound like music to any Bangladeshi ear. Apart from just looking after close to a million Rohingya refugees, the overarching requirement of development spending on them based on certain ground realities cannot be ignored. It is a bill too big for Bangladesh to foot, though it has bent backwards in its attempt to do so.

The UN reforms are due to kick in at the beginning of January 2019, and the first cuts appear likely in the layer of resident coordinators that are supposed to coordinate a coherent in-country UN program of action. Unfortunately, the coordination, or the lack of it, is what the United States is concerned with. 

The US is also at odds with its funding being channelled into the same spin-off negatives created by their policies and stances -- the Palestinian crisis. It obviously raises the question about politics and development. The US doesn’t want Syrian refugees, but is willing to be engaged in armed conflict contributing to the crisis. 

On the other hand, Germany and Japan, two of the biggest contributors, can’t deploy their armies except in their own defenses -- though this might soon change in Japan.

The US is now beginning to frown at even India for buying weaponry and energy from Russia, the second nation that has irked Trump. With Russia being India’s most favourite weaponry destination, that’s not something India is likely to take lying down.

Developmental aid is consistently forked out by the more affluent economies and countries, but along with the strains of wobbles and trade-wars, there are renewed calls for meaningful spending. 

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.