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Signposts To More Effective States

A new report says establishing better governance in developing countries is more than a matter of political will or financial assistance. It says it requires governments to be “more responsive to the needs of their people.”

The report – Signposts to More Effective States – “challenges conventional ways of thinking about governance.” Published by Britain’s Institute of Development Studies, the report will be presented to researchers and policymakers June 21st in London, about two weeks before the G8 Gleneagles Summit in Scotland. The summit will focus on aid and debt relief for Africa.

Professor Mick More, director of the Institute’s Center for the Future State, says the report would make good reading for G8 leaders.

The G8 leaders are in many respects doing a wonderful job. But the thing that concerns me and quite a few other people is that, to put things rather crudely, they are throwing money at problems where sometimes money is not the most important part of the solution. And there’s always a danger when you start to throw money at problems you just forget the other things that might actually be more important," he says.

Professor Moore says first, G8 leaders should take another look at the way assistance is given to Africa.

"Very simply, there is a very big problem here. We just have far too many aid agencies in so many African countries that are tripping over each other and sometimes contradicting each other. And generally making life more difficult for themselves, and especially for African governments, in reducing the quality of aid. That’s one thing they should do. I think the other thing they need to do is to look much more carefully at the international causes of bad government. In other words, those things that don’t lie in the control of African governments," he says.

The Institute of Development Studies report finds that what works in rich nations may not work in poor ones. It says, “Public institutions cannot be constructed just by transferring institutional models from rich to poor countries.”

"Professor Moore, "You still see all kinds of consultants going around talking about ‘world best practice’ and trying to sell best practice to governments in Africa and indeed in many other parts of the world, where the issue is not best practice internationally, but it’s what fits locally that really matters."

One of the conditions tied to increased aid from the G8 is a commitment to fight corruption. However, Professor Moore says there’s – what he calls - “an interacting unholy trio” helping to sustain corrupt officials in Africa.

"First, we have a situation where many African leaders can make a great deal of money, mostly illegal money from the export of oil, minerals from the international trade in narcotics. The first part of the trio. The second part of the trio is that the international financial system these days makes it very easy for them to launder this money abroad and keep it securely and safely. And the third part of the trio is that increasingly in the world today we have a lot of private companies that are providing very significant military services, which are completely unregulated. So many African leaders can actually hire those private military companies to keep themselves in power," he says.

The IDS report says one of the ways to help improve government accountability is through taxation. It gives citizens a strong incentive to monitor government. However, in Africa today, much of the revenues do not come from taxation, but rather minerals, oil and international aid.

"The point is that because governments don’t actually have to go and bargain with their citizens over that kind of money, they’re pretty independent and free of their citizens and can do what they want. In a more healthy situation, governments would be more dependent on taxes from their citizens and then they would really have to negotiate seriously with citizens. People don’t pay taxes unless they get treated relatively decently. And there’s a real connection in the long run between paying taxes and being democratic," Professor Moore says.

Professor Moore says he would like to see G8 leaders announce a plan to “assign clear responsibility for the success or failure of any new aid packages for Africa,” whether it be governments or local or international aid agencies. He also would welcome an announcement by the G8 to “wean Africa off of aid within 25 years.”