Jake van der Kamp
I RECEIVED AN interesting snippet in my e-mail the other day from my younger brother who lives in the logging town of Burns Lake, British Columbia - one traffic light, three second-hand pick-up truck merchants, six gas stations, porn and slasher titles galore at the local video shop, little else.
Apparently, a local entrepreneur started up his own bank 15 years ago without official approval and prospered mightily. He knew the market and the market knew him. It was local community banking at its best and, with a 15-year history, 439288 BC's financial position was probably as sound as any Canadian bank's.
But it is over. The financial cops have shut it down. If you want bridging finance to buy a skidder in Burns Lake you are subject to lending policies devised in Toronto and you will certainly not get your money with one phone call as you could from Glenn Anderson if he knew you. Burns Lake will be the loser.
I mention it because I know a place that needs Glenn Anderson even more than Burns Lake does. That place is Afghanistan. What Afghanistan will get instead, however, is the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Afghanistan will be the loser.
The ADB, you see, has announced that it will play a 'key role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan'. I shall pass over all the politically correct talk of how it will channel, funnel and oversee implementation of assistance as I think I know what will actually ensue.
We shall start with the fact that what appears to have troubled ADB most at its annual meeting in Shanghai last week was allegations of having given money to environmental offenders. Count on it that there will be no repeat in Afghanistan. There will be mountains of environmental impact reports before a cent goes out. Abdul is not to spill chemicals on the pristine soil of Kabul.
Then there was last week's complaint that the ADB had, horror of horrors, recently assisted in privatisation of utilities. We certainly cannot have that. Self-sustaining industry is taboo. It must be subsidised forever.
What we will then see, of course, is that major donors who have pledged US$4.5 billion in reconstruction aid (all of it forthcoming - the tooth fairy says so) will soon tire of providing their largesse and there will be no money to repair the fancy equipment they have brought in.
But one aim will at least have been achieved. The ADB also serves to assist the export sales of the countries that provide it money. Pity about the poor villagers who do the importing. The ADB likes its loans paid back. Let us hope the villagers know the difference between loan and grant.
There will be other problems for them too. The ADB does not want its good name besmirched by nefarious doings in projects it has sponsored. Everything must be politically clean, which means more mountains of paperwork and the villagers forced to pay exorbitant taxes they could otherwise have dodged.
But politically clean naturally goes only so far when the dictates of bureaucracy intrude. The villagers will not get the money directly. No, it will first go through local officials whom the ADB will train. Yummy, yummy, yummy for them. Do you really think they will miss the obvious trick?
Let us just hope the ADB does not resort to some of its own usual tricks, such as telling the villagers they must pay back in hard currencies or forcing the Government in Kabul to guarantee the loans on the threat of being cut off from World Bank aid. Unfortunately, it as likely to forego them as the local officials are their own.
Glenn Anderson, pack your bags. You are badly needed in Kabul to show how local community development aid should really be carried out.