Army of well-paid advisers keep Pacific poor

Helen Hughes: The Australian: February 22, 2010 12:00AM

TAXPAYERS should be extremely concerned that egregiously high salaries are paid to aid-funded advisers, not because they are earning more than the Prime Minister but because the aid is being wasted. Capacity building has not merely failed to get Pacific islands to grow, but is responsible for their lack of development.

Some of these advisers do a reasonable enough job, though many do too little to earn any salaries. Many of the useful ones, for example, in finance departments, are not advisers at all. They manage budgets and expenditures. The islands have thus avoided the inflation and excessive borrowing of previous decades. But countries cannot develop unless their own nationals learn by doing. Nationals may initially make more mistakes than advisers, but only by actually doing a job without someone looking over their shoulder can a cadre of public servants be created. Yet 30 years after independence, key public service posts throughout the islands are held by expatriates. Solomon Islanders welcomed the pacifying functions of the Regional Mission to the Solomons, but they now seethe with resentment because they have no role in their own country. There is also almost no indigenous private sector in the Pacific. Australian expatriates dominate large business and the professions and Chinatowns handle the luxury trade that caters for them. In Fiji , which relied least on expatriates, they are flocking back. They are now Chinese rather than Australians.
Most of the Pacific graduates trained in Australia do not seem to be working in the Pacific. They resent advisers in positions they could fill that are being paid salaries they can earn only by working abroad. They find jobs in international organisations or the Middle East . In Papua New Guinea particularly, stratospheric expatriate salaries are justified by the personal danger arising from the violent crime that has grown steadily despite 30 years of advice.

Progress is inverse to the number of advisers. There are relatively few advisers in Samoa , which pulled itself together in the 1990s to achieve a decade of low but steady growth. Advisers are most numerous in the Solomon Islands and PNG where standards of living for more than 80 per cent of the population remain at bare subsistence level. Women work in the gardens struggling to get some cash crops to the market. Boys and men hang around smoking ganja and drinking beer. There are no jobs. There is no running water or electricity. Women give birth in the bush. Literacy is estimated to be 25 per cent, principally in urban areas. The more enterprising lads drift to towns where there are also no jobs. Crime is the realistic alternative. In Port Moresby and Lae, expatriate triads run gangs of Raskol that manage the breaking-and-entering, gambling, prostitution and illegal immigration. They probably earn more than the Prime Minister of China.

Capacity building runs in tandem with the UN Millennium Development Goals that have been adopted by AusAID. Capitalist development pursued by Singapore , Hong Kong , Taiwan , Korea , Thailand , Malaysia , up to a point even Indonesia , China and India – where there is not an expatriate in sight – has been abandoned. The Millennium Development Goals reject rigorous education, hard work, savings and investment that lead to improvements in living standards, for the socialist objectives of abolishing hunger (which the Pacific has never experienced), postmodern education that has empowered Pacific children but not taught them to read, write or count and minimal health targets that are clearly not going to be achieved. Tragically, a demographic transition to lower population growth is being achieved in PNG by the high death rates of the HIV-AIDS epidemic.

As Peter Bauer saw in the 1950s in Africa , aid supports elites who live comfortable lives while most of their peoples remain in poverty. The Pacific elites send their children to international schools or to boarding schools in Australia . Expatriates support golf and tennis clubs, cafes and restaurants. Locals are encouraged to steal to keep up with these Joneses.

Pacific islands have rich agricultural land and forests, marine resources and minerals. Their beauty is legendary so they are ideal for tourism. The Pacific has received more aid per capita than any other region in the world.

Barnaby Joyce may not be across the development literature but he can smell a rat. Australian aid to the Pacific indeed has been an example of transferring funds from low-income earners in Australia to high-income Pacific elites.

Emeritus professor Helen Hughes is a senior fellow of the Centre for Independent Studies. She is completing a book on how aid has failed the Pacific.

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2 thoughts on “Army of well-paid advisers keep Pacific poor

  1. What the Professor is highlighting is I guess overdue. In that there should be a ‘home-grown’ policy whereby Indeginious Intellectuals be encouraged and also provided condusive environment to be able to return and work and give advise at home instead of abroad. There is some going on but I trust more should be done.

    I appreciate for those genuine efforts by external advisors to bring the expertise to our shores but I believe we are already in the TIME that we can also be able to provide the same sort of expertise.

    Secondly, I agree that the renumeration is quite astronomical. You put all advisors’ package together and I bet you can get a good slice of the Aid-pie. I see that Development work has now become a place where you can ‘make money’. Don’t get me wrong we don’t work for nothing but this is Development work and should be as it is. I mean the focus should be on the People and Society and if an element of the effort falls short or deviates from the focus then a review is a must; the focus must not be lost.

    Sampla Tingting na Lukluk tasol

  2. I am a PNG citizen working in development in East Africa because here my expertise as a well educated citizen from a developing country is valued and rewarded. I am desperate to work in PNG but find that my citizenship works against me in my own country – I left PNG because my value/remuneration was being dictated by my nationality and not my experience nor my education. How is that not racism?

    The development world is full of people who care and want to make a difference and can and do make large and positive contributions. Conversely it is also full of people who see an easy tax-free dollar to be made in a hot country. It can be extremely frustrating working in this field and watching the money expatriate development workers make when their “local counterparts” are being treated so differently.

    My feeling is that, if you need to be rewarded so much for the cost and suffering of living in my country then L E A V E. I am more than happy to take your seat. I W A N T to live in my country. I am P R O U D of my country. Once in your seat, the decisions I make will affect M Y future, not yours.

    Having said all of that, I can see a change coming. The growth of a huge middle class in developing countries is going to change the above inconsistencies. I believe that soon, there will be no reason for a country such as ours to be run by, advised by, built by, its own experts. And I hope to be one such person as I seek my one-way ticket home.

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