Tuesday, August 31, 2004

ST writer slams UN 

It’s unusual to see a writer in The Straits Times criticise the United Nations. But that appears to be what Pranay Gupte has done in his article titled “Population control or reproductive health? It’s all a scam”. Excerpt of his article:

Remember those warnings about how unbridled population growth was a bomb ticking away? Well, the dire scenario did not materialise... But...the United Nations...continue hammering on the theme. Between UN expenditures and those of individual governments and NGOs, some US$11 billion is spent each year on population-related matters. That is more than a fourth of what all 135 countries of the Third World receive annually in foreign aid, and almost a tenth of what they get each year in foreign direct investment (FDI) and foreign institutional investment (FII) in their equity markets. And the greatest population scam is all set to enter a new stage.

Starting today, thousands of politicians, diplomats and academicians will gather in London’s Queen Elizabeth II Convention Hall for a three-day conference to lament the world’s allegedly rapid population growth. They are flying first class or business class, they are being put up in luxurious lodgings, they are being feted at tony restaurants — and international taxpayers are footing the bill... At the London conference, there will be calls to create an international super-agency to coordinate global efforts concerning social development...

Is it really necessary to create yet another bureaucracy? My own experience...suggests that Third World countries don’t need the altruism of foreign bodies and their highly compensated consultants... Four critical elements are necessary to accelerate sustainable development in poor nations: The mobilisation of domestic resources by the private sector...the inflow of more FDI for strengthening infrastructure and expanding manufacturing and agro-business; more foreign and local investment in securities markets; and the widening of education, particularly of female children. Anthropology suggests that people will always respond positively to economic and educational opportunities — and adjust family size accordingly...

For three decades I have known the leading dramatis personae of the population and development business. Some of them became friends. But, in the end, many of them turned out to be frauds, however clever, however charming. For them, social development has meant self-aggrandisement. This international class of povertycrats, regrettably, has only a promising future to look forward to.
Strong words, indeed. Not having had the privilege of working with UN or other international agencies and their officials that are working on population-related issues, I am unable to directly assess how clever, how charming or how fraudulent they actually are.

Yet, speaking in general, some degree of self-aggrandisement is almost to be expected in bureaucracies. Lacking the discipline of the marketplace that businesses have — though having seen the likes of Enron and WorldCom, I’m far from suggesting that the business world is free from the same problem — effective governance is difficult to measure in bureaucracies, making them fertile grounds for ambitious political types to use their cleverness and charm to attain power or enrich themselves instead.

Whether it is actually happening in UN agencies, though, is not for me to say. As it is, Pranay Gupte has said quite a bit. I am almost certain that the UN will respond. The accusation is too obvious to ignore.


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