The foreign aid which has poured into Nepal in the form of cash, commodities and advisory services has only led the individual Nepalis deeper into poverty. Despite the massive intervention of foreign aid, which makes up 44 per cent of the 1991-92 budget, the per capita income remains a lowly US 170.
Nepal´s transition to democracy was, in part, the result of foreign donors (particularly the United States and several European countries) threatening closure of the aid pipeline unless human rights were respected and repression ended. Subsequently, the major donor have indicated that they will support the democratic Government´s development efforts.
Just because well-wishers arc. willing to pro vide assistance, however. does not mean that we must accept whatever is placed before us. Enough has gone wrong with the giving and taking of aid in the past that, as Nepal seeks to break new ground in the sphere of development, we must analyse the problems encountered in the past.
The preambles of project documents, which govern overall implementation of technical and financial aid projects, are always pro-development and pro- common man. But the day -to -day implementation of projects is quite another story. The discrepancy between theory (project document) and practice (implementation) is caused by many factors, some of which are listed below.
* The foreign expert (advisor) is unable to communicate (advise) with his Nepali partners because of a belief that his methodology and technology are superior. This leads to Nepali resistance.
* The foreign expert is not competent enough to take up the assigned responsibility. This happens more often than is acknowledged. Some arriving experts are those who have not been able to market their abilities in more demanding markets.
* The donor agency which is responsible for a project is often not bold enough to concede mistakes made by the experts it has selected.
* The Nepali side is weak in monitoring foreign-aided projects. While sometimes this can be due to the technical nature of the work, more often it is the result of indifference on the part of the responsible Nepali official.
* The vast discrepancies in remuneration of Nepali and expatriate staff, both of whom might be equally competent, have a debilitating effect on the Nepali side. The foreigner´s access to project resources like vehicles, travel, dollar salaries and allowances creates a great distance between the Nepali and expatriate. Many unproductive projects are extended for no other reason than that the expatriate involved wants his term extended.
* There is too much international travel from the donor´s side in the name of project formulation, feasibility, negotiation, fact-finding, back- stopping, monitoring, troubleshooting, evaluation, and so on. Such missions are mostly the preserve of expatriates. It is especially unconscionable if such junkets are financed by loan-supported projects, which means they are paid out of Nepal´s coffers.
* Some donor agencies insist on pushing pet projects without considering the country´s needs. There is also “a tendency to experiment with project concepts and implementation at the cost of Nepal´s development. The donor side´s rules and regulations governing project implementation are
not made transparent to the Nepali side.
* The nexus between local development merchants, local power centers and foreign agencies and consultants has done the country great harm by mis-directing aid. The decisive factor in project formulation is often the market needs of donor country suppliers. There also exists an unethical link between the commission agents and the foreign agencies, who bypass Nepali officials considered “troublesome”.
What is the lesson to be learnt from this litany? One, that Nepalis must do their homework thoroughly before asking for help. While maintaining diplomatic cordiality, they must analyse the strengths and weaknesses of potential donors and be able to direct an aid agency to the sector of the Government´s choice. To do this, the National Planning Commission, the Ministry of Finance, the line ministries, the independent sector and individual experts, all have to be mobilised. No one agency or individual can expect to suddenly turn things around.
On both the Nepali side and the donor´s side, the staff selected must be unbiased, without bigotry, tolerant, experienced and qualified The group dynamics in the project team is crucial: without mutual respect and a seriousness about the project´s goals and strategies, the expectations of the population of the project area will not be fulfilled. Project evaluation, must be done no t for the good of an individual or agency, but for the cause of development. This is an obvious statement, but not so obvious when project valuations are carried out. In anew political atmosphere, evaluation reports must be communicated to donors, the Nepali government and the people.
Nepal must begin to take the initiative in foreign aid. It must formulate plans and project documents and put its requests on the table for the donors to respond to. It will no longer be acceptable to jump at every carrot dangled by every donor.
By learning to work out an optimum foreign aid packet, befitting Nepali dignity, culture, economy, and, above all, Nepali needs, we might be able to regain some of our lost pride as a nation. Also, when that day arrives, foreign aid´s role becomes truly supportive and catalytic.
If,on the other hand, business continues as usual, foreign aid will remain that which goes into the begging bowl — from which only a few expatriate consultants, the international civil service, the economic and political elites, top-rung Government officials, development merchants and commission agents will prosper in the name of 20 million Nepalis.