Apr 13, 2010

Helping out

By Atle Hetland

At a Seminar in Islamabad recently, the Pakistan-Norway Association (PANA), with the Embassy of Norway, marked 40 years of successful development cooperation with Pakistan and discuss issues with partners and experts, including half a dozen speakers and over fifty invited members from the public and private sectors, NGO and UN partners, such as, Right to Play, Friends of the MIND, Sungi Foundation, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), UNIFEM, and UNICEF. Norway channels its official development assistance (ODA) through various partners, including the government, NGOs and the United Nations in order to reach as good processes and outcomes as possible, although it is questionable if this is economical.

How successful was the two score years’ cooperation with Pakistan nobody knows, so neither PANA not the Norwegian Embassy can claim such high achievements. As in most development aid, the outcome and impact are at best moderate, sometimes even negative. At the same time, each specific project or programme is often successful as seen from a narrow perspective, but how useful the activities were as seen from the poor people’s perspective, those who are to benefit, is another thing. As much as we believe the Norwegians did as well as they could, and their aid is generally both well-meant and of high quality, but to say that it is indeed successful, is to go too far, especially in the case of Pakistan. We shall shed light on Norwegian aid in general and the aid to Pakistan in particular.

Pakistan is a medium-large recipient of Norwegian aid, with Afghanistan as the single largest partner worldwide, alongside the Palestinian Areas, followed by Tanzania, Mozambique, and the Sudan and other African countries.

Norway is one of the staunchest supporters of bilateral and multilateral development aid, this year allocating about 1.1 percent of GDP. Norway is the third largest donor of humanitarian aid and among the five largest donors to a handful of United Nations agencies, and in general, a strong supporter of the world body. Today, the Norwegian aid budget in Pakistan is about twenty million dollars; last year, some twenty million was in addition granted for IDPs. Afghanistan receives over one hundred million dollars annually in Norwegian development aid. Bangladesh and Nepal also receive sizeable amounts, but corruption scandals in the otherwise excellent education cooperation have recently overshadowed the good cooperation.

The first bilateral Norwegian aid project was the “Indo-Norwegian Fisheries Development Project in Kerala”, which started in 1952-1972. The project was successful as regards modernisation of the fishing fleet, and preservation and sale of fish, but fell short of improving the lives of the poor people. Well, even worse some researchers said, some poor groups became poorer! The Norwegians have always set high aims in their development cooperation, and one such aspect is that they wish the aid to reach the poorest and the most needy. In recent decades, women have been given special focus and other groups experiencing discrimination. And today, India doesn’t want aid from small donors like Norway. Unless small donors join hands with others, such as the European Union countries do, or the aid is large, such as that from the World Bank, India finds that it becomes too costly to receive, administer and report on the aid it receives. This is the case for all major recipients of development aid, including Pakistan.

Norway, where Christianity is the state religion, has a growing number of Muslim citizens and more than a hundred mosques. Norway wishes to underline the country’s religious freedom and it emphasises the important role of Muslims, including a large number made up of Pakistani immigrants and Afghan refugees, about 45,000 in a population of about 5 million. The country has seen minimal religious tension between various groups, and this promises well for the future development of a more multicultural and diverse society on the northern outskirts of Europe.

In Asia, Nepal has been an important country for Norwegian missionaries involved in social and development work, including successful electrification of rural areas, provision of health services and in recent years, large support to the education sector. Bangladesh remains a major recipient, and Norway and Sweden were earlier among the largest donors to Grameen Bank. Prof. M. Yunus, who founded this unique poor people’s, or poor women’s bank, was awarded the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize a few years ago. In the 1960s and 70s, Norway provided technical assistance to Iran through the ‘peace corps’, sending teachers, nurses and engineers to the country, but with mixed results, according to Norwegian development aid historians.

In Pakistan, Norway’s aid was for a long time mainly commodity assistance, with fertilizers as the major component, and a controversial family planning programme some decades ago. Norway froze its aid when Pakistan became a nuclear power but has rebuilt the programme after 9/11. Today, the portfolio is broad and includes, among other things, assistance to gender and other human rights activities and good governance, community development in the Northern Areas, child health, and vaccination programmes in Sindh through UN agencies, education in NWFP and culture in Islamabad, Lahore, and Peshawar, and assistance to IDPs.

The Norwegian aid programme in Pakistan seems well-balanced. However, questions can still be raised about the areas that have been chosen, who have chosen them, and who are the implementing partners. For example, it is today common to channel a major portion of the Norwegian bilateral aid through UN agencies and large Norwegian and other international NGOs. Local NGOs are subsequently included and they are usually in charge of the actual implementation in understanding with the government. It is not clear how NGOs are chosen, and if new can be added, possibly in consortiums or umbrella groups.

In any case, to be a partner in implementation of development aid, including Norwegian development aid, is good ‘business’, as it is for the United Nations, NGOs, consultants and Norwegian diplomats and other aid workers. They all make good living out of it. We can always ask if it costs more than it tastes, but then who is willing to do it differently? Or, put differently. Is the donor willing to do it differently? Today, the UN is ‘popular’, a decade or two ago private consultants and NGOs were considered ‘best’. The government, which is always the main partner in bilateral development cooperation, is today often bypassed in implementation due to worries about implementation capacity and even corruption. But I believe the government (at its different levels) will again become the most important implementing partner, as it should be, along with the civil society. Even if implementation is not as smooth then, it is less costly and in the longer term, results are better.

Norway and Pakistan have not yet succeeded in establishing major trade links between the two countries. Except for one telecom company there is not yet any other large Norwegian company in Pakistan. In the essential hydroelectric power sector, Jacobsen Electro, Norway, with Iqbal Power Co., is planning work in Pakistan. A Norwegian textile and garment factory, Dale Fabrikker, is said to explore production in Pakistan. Considering, too, that there is a large Pakistani community in Norway, we need to see more trade and cultural and institutional cooperation linkages between the two countries.

Norway should be proud of the humanitarian and emergency aid it provides to Pakistan in the fields of Afghan refugees, earthquake victims and IDPs. Humanitarian aid is a particularly important area of Norwegian aid, and worldwide Norway is one of the largest and most competent donors of humanitarian and emergency aid, including to the UN refugee agencies UNHCR and UNRWA. After the devastating earthquake in Pakistan 8 October 2005, Norway granted about USD 75 million in assistance.

At a general level, it can be agreed that the Norwegian aid to Pakistan has been useful, but we do not know if it has really been successful, or as good as it ought to be considering the high cost of development aid administration, in salaries to foreigners and UN agencies’ and NGOs’ overheads. It can be agreed that it was agreed that important results have been achieved. It may well be true, but how can we evaluate that?

The recent seminar in Islamabad explained that Norway is a among the world’s leading donors to Pakistan and especially Afghanistan. Norway is not only a large donor in terms of volume but also in terms of quality. But as important as regarding high quality assistance, and a high volume, is it to take part in important policy processes and practical debates in support of the recipient country and the various civil society groups. Development aid only becomes development cooperation if such a dialogue takes places and there is professional exchange and assistance.

In addition to providing funding and helping develop fairer international trade; I believe that donors in the future should help the recipient or partner countries in taking part in debate and dialogue about development, emphasizing issues such as democracy at large and at local level. Debate should be about education and health for all, fair pay and good work conditions and a number of issues to help the large majority of ordinary, young, poor people to participate in their country’s development. Easy to say, but difficult to do, but advanced, small countries like Norway can be models. The ‘Scandinavian Development Model’ is still worth considering”. It proved useful when Norway moved from being a relatively poor state to becoming a welfare state in the 1950s.

It is important for poor countries to receive aid to help build expensive infrastructure, such as hydroelectric power stations, hospitals, schools, and so on, but as important is it to help local partners in formulating their own strategies for action, and concrete ways of actually implementing plans. Institutions and individuals from donor countries like Norway can play important roles in facilitating local partners in achieving the goals they want to achieve. They must always bear in mind that they should try to help in such a way that the locals themselves can do their best, including the best of ordinary people. Furthermore, in addition to cooperation with a country in the far North, I also believe in South-South cooperation, simply that we all try to learn from each other, including Norway learning from Pakistan, for example, in how to organize family companies or live in peace with scarce resources.

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