While vacationing in my native Curaçao from Chad where I then lived and worked for the United Nations, a local executive authority (“Diputado”) invited me for a meeting. What I remember is that she was hunched over a pile of papers she had to sign and suddenly interrupted me:”how can we get the UN to send us some USD millions?”
Having worked earlier for the Bureau of Social-Economic Planning (SEP) I knew that yearly a good chunk of the development aid Curaçao received from The Netherlands went unused back because of our inability to properly plan, formulate and execute projects. I remember one year that USD 20 million destined for education reverted to The Hague. Like the “Diputado” then and our decision makers today, many still hold on to the erroneous belief that lack of development is merely lack of money. Those vying for a position in the Staten come Spring 2021, will undoubtedly try to woo us with empty promises of Other people’s money. Many of us rarely question this assumption.
Because I’ve seen hundreds of development projects in about 25 countries, I can argue that development has much more to do with the strength of a country’s institutions – political and social systems that are developed through the interplay of a government and its people. That’s why Chad still ranks in the bottom 3 countries regarding Human Development Index in spite of oil.
I’m not against humanitarian aid, especially when we have calamities like the covid 19 pandemic. Long term development however has to come from within not outside. There can be no development if our state institutions don’t preserve the rule of law, respect human rights for each and every citizen, have checks and balances in place, are equipped with the best persons possible and are accountable to the constituents.
Clearly we do not have those institutions in place yet. Otherwise USD hundreds of millions would not have flowed back to the main donors, white elephants would not have been built, the NOW would not have been such a disaster and get-rich-quick-schemes with rice and sugar for the benefit of a few actors, would not have occurred.
Aid as we have seen is often also allocated based on the donor’s (The Hague) priorities which are not always our priorities. Another truth is that the aid has created a culture of dependence that has stifled real growth and development. Is this what we want for our future generations? We need a change of mindset. We should take the reins of our country’s development and reinvent the way we go about development and aid from especially The Netherlands. We need to double our efforts to reform our institutions. We need to shed off the beggar’s mentality, the victimization, and the idea that others are somehow responsible for our acts.