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Wednesday
Jan102018

US-Mongol Construct 2000 Business Prospectus: Building a New Democracy | 2000


Researcher and Writer: David South

Consultancy: David South Consulting

Publisher and Client: USAID

Published: 2000

Background: This excerpted text is from a business prospectus prepared in 1999 for USAID to promote construction opportunities in Mongolia to the US construction industry. At the time, Mongolia was in the grip of a severe crisis, called one of "the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever". By 2012, Mongolia was called the "fastest growing economy in the world". It is proof the foundations for Mongolia's recovery from crisis were laid in the late 1990s.

“No other Asian country enjoys more political freedom today than Mongolia. And no other Asian country has shown greater commitment to open markets. But Mongolia has received little reward for its efforts.” Fortune Magazine, December 1998

Discover a New Democracy

Mongolians are some of the highest per capita donor recipients in the world: On average US $50 per person. The vast majority of this aid is targeted at infrastructure projects. Mongolia in 2000 is an opportunity waiting for American business. Democratic, with a free market economy, the country offers regulatory freedom, a belief in the private sector setting standards and a pro-Western attitude friendly to American companies. 

Mongolia's history is marked by the rise and fall of cities, the ebb and flow of political and economic systems. The country has experienced being the largest empire for its time in the 13th century, to being occupied by foreign powers. Economically and socially the country has lived through feudalism, communism and now, capitalism. The one thing that has remained stable throughout this rich history has been the nomadic way of life. Livestock remains to this day a major pillar of the economy and contributes to one of the country's major foreign currency earners, cashmere wool. 

After over 70 years of communist rule, Mongolians finally turned their backs on communism and robustly embraced free markets and democracy in 1996 with the election of the Democratic Coalition. A gradual opening up of the country had begun under the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party after the collapse of the Soviet Union and under pressure from peaceful public demonstrations.  

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the country suffered what many economists have called the largest peacetime economic collapse in the 20th century. 

While it is a fact that Mongolia's economy is severely underdeveloped, both in terms of infrastructure and diversity, it is also true the country is the freest in Asia. As Fortune Magazine noted in a December, 1998 issue, "No other Asian country enjoys more political freedom today than Mongolia. And no other Asian country has shown greater commitment to open markets. But Mongolia has received little reward for its efforts." Mongolia, for American business, offers a win-win situation, an opportunity to join in the building of a strong democracy in Asia while tapping the rich resources, both natural and in human capital. American businesses can enjoy a regulatory environment that is more flexible than in the United States, and a government that lets businesses do what they do best: serve the needs of customers and make money. 

Youthful

A Bright Young Future

Demographically, Mongolia is a very young country. A by-product of high birth rate policies during the communist period, 60 per cent of Mongolia's population are aged between 1 and 24, with 37.6 per cent between the locally accepted definition of youth of 15 to 34. In 1998 the New York Times Magazine called Mongolia "The youngest place on earth". Even a cursory glance at the streets of the capital, Ulaanbaatar (population 600,000), will reveal a young population taking their fashion and cultural cues from the West, and who hold correspondingly Western aspirations to own homes and start businesses. Mongolia enjoys exceptionally high rates of literacy ( 96 per cent), post-secondary enrolment (65,089 students in 1998) and the urban population quickly embraced Western consumer products as they became available. 

Growing

The Construction and Environmental Services Industry in Mongolia

Today, Mongolia officially has 100 architectural and engineering design companies and over 500 construction companies. Of these, 40 are considered large operations with their own in-house design and engineering outfits, or who have a close relationship with one or more companies that either manufacture or import construction materials. The country is a rich resource for raw materials for the construction industry, but this vast wealth remains under-utilised. According to geological surveys spanning the decades from 1930 to the 1990s, over 200 deposits were discovered that could be tapped for construction materials. 

At the beginning of the 20th Century, there were few permanent standing structures in Mongolia, apart from Buddhist monasteries and royal palaces. At the beginning of the 20th Century most Mongolians lived in the round ger felt tent. It wasn't until the communist revolution that construction of sedentary dwellings and buildings in the country picked up pace. In 1924, three years after the 1921 revolution, the State Committee for Construction was established (by 1926 it became the Construction Department of the Ministry of Industry), and undertook the large-scale construction of buildings based on European designs. 

From the 1960s the construction industry in Mongolia emerged as the country industrialised. Mongolia received aid from both China and Russia up to the Sino-Soviet dispute, and both countries were the main funders for construction projects. Many buildings in the downtown of the capital were built by the Chinese government.

Up until the election of the Democratic Coalition in 1996, all construction activities were conducted under the direction of the state. Building booms took place in the 1970s and 1980s as the communist government tried to meet the demand for apartments and other facilities. At its peak in 1989, the construction sector made up 10 per cent of the gross national product. With the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s, many building projects in Mongolia ground to a halt as Soviet subsidies were withdrawn.  Across the country it is possible to see the empty shells of apartment buildings, holiday resorts and half-built sports stadiums.

The Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, under popular pressure for a change, began to gradually make the shift to free markets and democracy. The first state privatization programme began in 1993 under the direction of international experts. It wasn't until the election of the Democratic Coalition in 1996 that significant reforms were taken to fully introduce a free market economy. And it wasn't until 1997 and 1998 that the fruits of these measures started to appear.

The construction industry was fully privatised in 1998, with companies becoming limited or wholly owned entities. There now exists a mix of private and public companies in this sector. All of the companies are in the early stages of learning how to work and prosper in the free market.

The legacy of working under a command economy has left many companies ill-equipped and under-funded, many not operating at full capacity or not at all.

The private sector has shown itself to be capable of initiating real estate development projects, most commonly the building of private apartments, shopping complexes and small hotels.

Weaknesses in management and financing do lead to long delays, poor quality and in some cases, the abandonment of a construction project mid-way.  According to the State Statistical Office, the construction sector shrank from 1991 to 1994. In 1994, activity increased 26 per cent from 1993. Since then the gross national product has averaged growth of 3.3 per cent, but still has not caught up with the rate at the end of the 1980s. 

The environmental services sector has received a significant boost from international donors working in Mongolia. Various donor funded projects are building and renovating facilities using energy-efficient technology. These donors have also conducted training workshops and education campaigns for local construction companies. Being a very cold country, awareness is high over the financial and environmental benefits of energy-efficient techniques. Construction techniques, however, are weak and Mongolia has a long way to go in utilizing these technologies efficiently.  

It is a misnomer to think most Mongolians are wandering nomads. In fact the majority of the population of 2.4 million now live a sedentary lifestyle in small towns or in the big cities of Ulaanbaatar, Erdenet and Darkhan. Under communism these urban centres were economically dependent on state enterprises, many of  which now have either gone bankrupt, idle or have been privatized. There is currently a significant migration to the capital from these economically devastated communities. Officially the government was able to track 6,518 people, mostly between the ages of 18 and 39, moving to the capital in the first half of 1998 – a 60 per cent increase on 1997. Unofficial migration to the capital is believed to be far higher. 

At present a majority of the population still live in ger tents or sub-standard makeshift wooden housing. The construction industry cannot meet the high demand for modern housing, with amenities like running water, toilets and electricity.

“The business atmosphere in Mongolia is inviting and [our] partnership has faced very few obstacles while entering the market. Based on our positive experience here, we plan to continue and expand our presence in the Mongolian marketplace.” Mrs. Bolormaa Reiner, Representative Johnson and Johnson-Mongolia

Foreign Aid

Economic Prospects for the Country

Large donor community

Along with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mongolia also lost significant economic subsidies, which contributed to the severe crisis of the early 1990s. The World Bank has estimated these subsidies reached a third of Mongolia's GDP in the late 1980s. Since then international donors have played a key role in helping to restructure the Mongolian economy to adapt to the demands of a market economy.  

Infrastructure has always been a weak point for Mongolia, and it was considered the most isolated and underdeveloped of the former Soviet bloc countries. International donors have placed infrastructure development at the top of their agendas. Since 1997 foreign aid in the form of grants and loans has hovered around US $250 million, with the vast majority of this aid going towards infrastructure development. Priority areas are highways and transportation, power stations and communications. By sector the aid breaks down as follows: 30 per cent to mining, 27 per cent to energy, 19 per cent to transport, eight per cent to communications, five per cent to social security and three per cent to other areas. The donor community and the Mongolian government want to dig the country out of decades of underdevelopment, which currently hampers the budding private sector from becoming more sophisticated. 

These large-scale infrastructure projects offer enormous opportunities for US firms experienced in working in cold-weather conditions. There are also opportunities to develop world class office space for these international donors, something that is currently lacking in Ulaanbaatar.  

Foreign investment to date

Actual large-scale foreign investment to the country has been slow coming and still doesn't represent a major economic opportunity. The major players in direct foreign investment outside of development aid have been Mongolia's old neighbours, Russia (20 per cent) and China (33 per cent). This decade the country has attracted US $200 million in foreign investment and registered 840 jointly owned or wholly owned ventures.

New-found affluence

It is estimated that around five per cent of the capital's population fit into a middle or upper income category. The late 1990s have seen the emergence of a new breed of affluent Mongolians. Many of these affluent Mongolians struck it rich trading in once-unobtainable consumer products or servicing the expanding foreign community. This class of traders have developed a sophisticated taste for all things Western – Mercedes Benz cars, four-by-four jeeps and western fashions. Vehicle registrations have steadily risen since the introduction of a market economy. In 1996 the number of vehicles was 65,020; by 1997 it was 70,088. 

New home owners

In 1998 50,000 families became homeowners as a result of privatization of apartments. All the apartments are of Soviet era and do not meet the aspirations of the growing middle class. Many of these new homeowners immediately set about renovating these apartments, installing modern appliances and furniture. A significant minority is renovating apartments with the intention of selling them on to wealthier Mongolians or foreigners. The high number of renovations and additions to buildings in the capital is also indicative of other things: the economy has changed and existing buildings do not meet the new demands, and that people have money to pay for the renovations. 

Business Opportunities

USAID has identified the following opportunities in the Mongolian construction sector:

- Donor-funded projects: Large-scale infrastructure projects that are funded by loans or grants from international donors, are a safe bet. These projects require management and technical expertise that is often difficult to find locally. This includes projects that require an international tender.  

- Fully funded foreign projects: Any project requiring a building that meets international standards. International companies have little choice when it comes to finding adequate office or retail space.

- Low-cost labor: The Mongolian workforce is highly literate and often speak a second language, usually Russian amongst older workers, and English amongst the young. Unemployment levels are high in Mongolia and workers are keen to get a job. Generally salaries are as follows:

- Manager: US $250

- Accountant: US $200

- Engineer: US $150

- Secretary: US 100

- Driver: US $100

- Qualified worker: US $100

Source: FIFTA

- Donors: Many large-scale projects are directly funded by donor grants or loans and therefore are a low-risk, reliable source of income. At the June, 1999 donors meeting in Ulaanbaatar, US $320 million was pledged, the largest amount in eight years of donor funding. Most of these pledges are targeted at “hard” infrastructure and private sector development. 

- Imports rule: Imported construction materials dominate the marketplace and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Many of the materials are poor quality and from China. American companies can attract customers with their obvious advantages in both quality and innovation.

- Large resource base: Mongolia's large wealth of mineral resources is inefficiently utilized, with many mines and factories working under capacity or not at all. These resources could be tapped to produce construction materials locally for the domestic market, or more lucratively, for the booming Chinese market hungry for resources. 

- Very cold country: Mongolia's capital, Ulaanbaatar, is the coldest capital in the world. Mongolia's winters dip below minus 40 Celsius, and for those who live in apartment buildings, this can be a difficult time. Many apartments are inadequately insulated, and dip below zero when the central heating system is disrupted due to poor maintenance. There is an urgent need for high-quality aluminium and plastic windows and doors. Budgets are tight in Mongolia yet many organizations spend vast sums to heat buildings. It has been proven that during the course of the winter heating costs can be reduced from Tg 4,200 (US $4.20) per square metre, to Tg 280 (US $0.28) in an energy efficient dwelling. 

-  Windows are expensive: Mongolia must import all windows and glass products. When the cost of freight is added, windows become an unnecessarily expensive portion of any construction bill. This is a business opportunity for any company who can domestically produce glass products and windows at a cheaper price than imports. A National Code for Insulation of Buildings is being revised and none of the existing windows and doors meet this requirement.

- No chemical industry: While Mongolia exports oil to China for refining, the country does not have a domestic chemical industry, and consequently plastic and rubber is imported for construction purposes. Stone tiles like marble are currently also imported from outside, despite this resource being available in Mongolia.  

- Central heating and water unreliable:  For those who live in apartment buildings, the regular disruptions to both the water and heating supply are not only inconvenient, but also bad for business.  Technology that can by-pass relying on the central system (common to many Soviet-era cities, this system is wasteful and subject to regular breakdowns), is urgently needed. Alternative energy sources like solar power and wind can bring electricity to those who are not on the grid.  

- Free trade zones: The towns of Sukhbaatar (Russian border) and Zamyn-Uud (Chinese border), both served by rail, are the focus of Mongolian government attempts at increasing cross-border trade. At Zamyn-Uud Japan has upgraded the customs house facilities and trans-shipment facility. On the Chinese side, a major trading market has been constructed and a boom is taking place based on trade with Mongolia.  

“Arthur Andersen has had representation in Mongolia since 1993. We have been very active in the development of the accounting and auditing profession in Mongolia. January 1999, Arthur Andersen opened Arthur Andersen Mongolia Audit LLC.” Mr. C. L. Ruddell, Representative Arthur Andersen-Mongolia

What Do Mongolians Say They Need?

In interviews conducted by USAID, Mongolian government officials and construction companies detailed what they felt were the most urgent priorities: 

- Education and training: The vast majority of engineers and managers in the Mongolian construction industry received their training under communism. They were trained to work under a centrally planned economy, and will need to learn how to thrive in a free market situation where there are no guarantees. The Construction Training Institute currently only offers courses to managers and engineers. Its curricula is out-of-date and awareness of modern construction techniques and standards is weak. Exposure to computer-assisted construction methods is urgently required as well as training in foreign languages. 

- Awareness of International Standards: No Mongolian companies can offer state-of-the-art consulting on construction projects. 

- Licensure, apprenticeships and guilds: Standards are very weak in the construction sector and there is not a highly developed mechanism to ensure construction managers, engineers and workers meet a minimum qualification.     

- Being Earthquake-proof: While the National Design Codes and Regulations do stipulate that buildings must meet minimum requirements against earthquakes (Mongolia is located in a seismically active region, and severe earthquakes have happened), most buildings post-1989 fail to meet these requirements. 

- Weak infrastructure: Developing the transportation infrastructure of Mongolia will be key to future improvements in the economy. The rapidly developing Chinese economy offers many opportunities to Mongolia if roads and highways can be upgraded.  

- Better coordination and promotion: Working with FIFTA or the Foreign Investment and Foreign Trade Agency, Mongolian companies seeking foreign investment for projects need to improve their networking and presentation skills.  

Obstacles and Market Risks

Corruption: While Mongolians will tell you corruption has reached all levels of government, it is important to keep in mind it does not come close to the levels of corruption found in other former Communist countries. Foreign businesses do not suffer from harassment or intimidation by criminal gangs. 

Inexperience with the free market: Foreign businesses and travellers to Mongolia do experience difficulties communicating Western business concepts like consumer rights and service. It has to be said that over the past three years this has changed considerably for the better, and continues to improve as Mongolian businesses learn the importance of the axiom "the customer is always right". 

Differences between Mongolian and US standards: While Mongolia's regulations and laws are different from those in the US, it is important to keep in mind that the regulatory environment in Mongolia can be much freer in some areas. Also, many of the new laws have been drafted based on US laws and Mongolia's constitution was written upon the advice of US legal experts. 

Harsh climate: The long cold winters do present problems for some foreign businesses not used to working in cold-weather climates. This is also an area where American companies are at a specific advantage. 

Financial instability: Mongolia has had a number of serious banking crises since the early 1990s. Many private and public banks are insolvent due to bad loans. This can lead to long delays to construction projects and/or non-payment of salaries.   

Contract bidding: Only those contracts that are directly commissioned by the government will be subject to an open bidding. Private sector work is usually not subject to open bidding or design competitions. 

Downtime: Since Mongolia does no international corporate presence in the capital, any technical problems to equipment or software can involve downtime and delays as parts or repairs are sought in China. It is important to take this into consideration when establishing an operation in Mongolia. 

Advantages of Working in Mongolia

- Regulatory freedom

- Private-sector driven

- Market economy taking off

- Democratic

 Privatization of Land: Can I Own Land in Mongolia?

The dual legacies of communism and nomadism have made the issue of private ownership of land in Mongolia a thorny one. The government has passed the necessary legislation to make owning land in urban areas possible. However, inexperience with the concept of owning property and the laws that govern this make buying land risky. It is advisable to get a reliable local partner and to use the services of a law firm that knows the Mongolian situation. Long-term leases are available and might be a good option. 

Mongolian Government 

Financial commitment to date: 

The Ministry of Infrastructure Development has developed projects to encourage the production of construction materials locally. Due to financial constraints these projects have not been implemented. They include projects on cement, glass and paint production, rock processing, lime extraction and road development.

Government plans:

At this time the Mongolian government has not been able to develop a long-term strategy for the development of the construction sector. There are no specific policy incentives directly supporting real estate and housing development. The Ministry of Infrastructure is looking to the private sector to offer direction and guidance. 

Future Opportunities

The Tumen River Project: The eastern portion of Mongolia is included in a major trade zone development project initiated by the United Nations Development Programme. The Tumen River Area Development Programme (TRADP) is focusing foreign investment and infrastructure upgrading on eastern Mongolian, North-East China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and eastern Russia. This region has cumulatively attracted US $961 million from 1991 to 1997, with Mongolia's second biggest trading partner, China, making significant development gains.  While the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has been a thorn in the Project's side, both Mongolia and China are keen to push ahead with improving infrastructure and trade links. It is impossible to ignore the fact that China has made significant gains and that trade links with Mongolia continue to tighten. 

A feasibility study is currently underway on a railway link from Arxan, China to Choibalsan, Mongolia, and possibly on to Ulaanbaatar. As donors begin to fund these projects it would be prudent for American businesses to start building a relationship in the region to take advantage of future contracts. 

Commercial Street 2005: The City of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia's capital and commercial centre, has drafted the blue prints for the construction of a modern commercial and business centre for the next millennium. Commercial Street 2005 will offer infrastructure and services that match global standards. The current Soviet-era infrastructure of Ulaanbaatar is an impediment to future growth and is unsuitable for Mongolia's new market economy. 

The project covers 20 hectares of 1 km length in a historically vibrant part of the city. The city will pay for the engineering and infrastructure works for the complex and local businesses will pay for the construction of secondary buildings. Commercial Street 2005 is looking for foreign investment to participate in the building of a food supermarket, trade and service complex, a twin-towered international trade and service complex, a banking centre, a business centre and renovations to nearby apartment buildings. It is estimated the project will create 10,000 jobs and would cost an estimated US $100 million. 

Darkhan: With a population around 55,000, Darkhan is as-yet an untapped opportunity. Located north of  Ulaanbaatar and close to the border with Russia, Darkhan is linked by a good road and rail. Along with the mining town of Erdenet, Darkhan has a modern infrastructure. Having been trained to work in the former state industries that once dominated the city, the population is well-educated and skilled. Today, coal mining and agriculture are key to the economy. The city is potentially a good stable base for accessing the Russian market.

Getting started

Registering prior to undertaking construction work is relatively simple. The Government Agency for Construction issues three degrees of licenses. The first license is for small projects, the second is for small to medium-sized projects, and the third is for large-scale projects anywhere in Mongolia. As the project develops the company is obligated to notify and allow local building inspectors to enter the site. 

Residency Permits

All foreigners wishing to remain in Mongolia for more than 30 days must apply to the State Centre for Civil Registration and Information for a temporary residency permit or a short-term residency permit. 

Temporary Residency Permit

The applicant must present to the State Centre for Civil Registration a request issued by FIFTA. FIFTA will issue such a request to any agreed foreign investor immediately. Permits are generally issued within a couple of days and are valid for a period of time from three months to one year. A temporary residency permit can be renewed an unlimited number of times. Each renewal will re-validate the permit for a period from three months up to one year, as requested by the investor. 

Short Term Residency Permit

This non-renewable permit is issued to foreigners who plan to spend no more than 90 days in Mongolia. Applicants are required to present a written request from a Mongolian or foreign organization stating the activity in which the person will be engaged and the reason the permit is needed. In case of an exploratory visit by a potential investor, a letter from the home company will suffice. 

Entry Visas

Investors may apply for single-entry and multiple-entry visas at the Foreign Ministry's Chancellery Building in Ulaanbaatar or at Mongolian diplomatic missions in other countries. 

Single-Entry Visas

A single-entry visa is valid for three months from its date of issuance and entitles the bearer to enter and stay in Mongolia for 30 days. A letter of invitation or applicable work papers are required. This type of visa is issued at the Ulaanbaatar airport or land border-crossing point. 

Multiple-Entry Visa

A multiple-entry visa entitles the bearer to enter and exit Mongolia an unlimited number of times and is valid for a period of six months to one year. For the issuance of this type of visa, an official letter stating the reason for travel and a copy of the certificate of the organization must be submitted by the investor. 

(Source: FIFTA)

Infrastructure facts

Airports – Mongolia has 81 airports, of which 31 can be used year-round. Only eight are paved. 

Roads and highways – Mongolia has 1,531.7 km paved roads.

Railway – Mongolia has 1,750 km of rail track, mostly a north-south line reaching from Russia to China, with spur lines to the copper mining city of Erdenet and the coal mining city of Baganuur. A short line goes from the eastern city of Choibalsan to Russia. 

Registered trucks - 25,473 (1998)

Major infrastructure projects (1997-1999)

USA 

Mongolia energy sector project - US $45,500,000

World Bank

Mongolia coal project - US $35,000,000

Transport rehabilitation project - US $32,313,000 

Asian Development Bank

Telecommunications - US $24,381,000

Power station rehabilitation - US $38,277,000

Ulaanbaatar heat efficiency project - US $29,487,000

Provincial towns basic urban services project - US $7,695,000

Road development - US $22,499,000

Ulaanbaatar airport project - US $37,524,000

Japan

Road construction (1996)  - (Yen) 11,590,000

Rehabilitation of power plant IV (1995) - US $46,000,000

France 

Rehabilitation and extension of UB telephone network - (F Franc) 25,000,000

Germany

Telecommunications - (DM) 10,000,000

South Korea

Thermoelectric power plant in the Gobi desert - US $8,000,000

Upcoming major infrastructure projects

Asian Development Bank 

Improving Ulaanbaatar heat efficiency (until 2002) - US $39,785,000 

Japan

Building of rural schools - US $20,000,000

In 1998 Tg, 208 billion was invested in Mongolia, of which Tg 57.2 billion was on construction/major improvements

Source: State Statistical Bulletin

Construction trends in Mongolia show that in-country production of materials has suffered greatly. 

Building doors and window

Tg 417.8 million in 1989

Tg 2.9 million in 1998 

Bricks (million pieces)

172.8 (1989)

18.9 (1998) 

Cement (in thousand tons)

512.6 (1989)

109 (1998)

On a positive note, sales of furniture went up

Tg 34.7 million in 1989

Tg 185.2 million in 1998

US-Mongol Construct 2000: Building a New Democracy was published by USAID. It helped lay the foundations for a construction boom in the mid-2000s.
© David South Consulting 2018  
Monday
Oct022017

Wild East 17 Years Later | 2000 - 2017


Published in 2000 (ECW Press: Toronto), Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia is 17 years old. It is also 100 years since the 1917 October Revolution in Russia that began the long experiment of the Soviet Union. Mongolia was the second country after Russia to adopt Communism

The world has changed considerably since then; and so has Mongolia. The digital revolution has rolled across the planet, the attacks of 9/11 unleashed a wave of violence and wars, and Mongolia even became the fastest-growing economy in the world a few years ago (2012). But back when this book was researched, Mongolia was just coming out of decades of isolation within the Soviet orbit under Communism, and the country experienced in the 1990s “one of the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever” (Mongolia's Economic Reforms: Background, Content and Prospects, Richard Pomfret, University of Adelaide, 1994). 

"The years 1998 and 1999 have been volatile ones for Mongolia, with revolving door governments, the assassination of a minister, emerging corruption, a banking scandal, in-fighting within the ruling Democratic Coalition, frequent paralysis within the Parliament, and disputes over the Constitution. Economically, the period was unstable and rife with controversies." Mongolia in 1998 and 1999: Past, Present, and Future at the New Millennium by Sheldon R. Severinghaus, Asian Survey, Vol. 40, No. 1, A Survey of Asia in 1999 (Jan. - Feb., 2000), pp. 130-139 (Publisher: University of California)

That collapse made for some crazy times, as Wild East shows. 

Wild East was called one of the top 10 Canadian travel books of 2000 by The Globe and Mail. 

Reviews for Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Jill Lawless:

The Globe and Mail

"Engaging...a revealing and often amusing account of her journeys through a beautiful country awakening from a tumultuous era."

The Georgia Straight, Vancouver

"This readable and reportorial book is the perfect antidote to ... those tiresomely difficult, pointlessly dangerous, and essentially fake expedtions undertaken against the advice of local people who know better."

Toronto Star

"Lawless introduces us to Mongolia's tabloid press, to teenage mineworkers, sharp-eyed young hustlers, nomads whose only possessions are their livestock, Mongolian wrestlers and Mongolian horse races."

Mongolian Buryat Civilisation Bookstore

"Wryly funny and wide-spectrum account of Mongolia's tumultuous rebirthing into the 21st century. Half the population lives in Soviet apartment blocks and watches satellite TV but the other half still eek a living from the exquisite, barren hills while living in nomadic felt tents. Of course, I'd much rather be in the tents... but whatever your preference, you will definitely enjoy Ms. Lawless' writing. She was editor of an Ulaan Baator newspaper for two years, and she tells it like it is. Very highly recommended."


Copies of Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Jill Lawless are still available in various editions and languages.

A promotional poster for Wild East from 2003.

Explore further Jill Lawless' work here: https://muckrack.com/jilllawless

© David South Consulting 2017

Saturday
Mar112017

The Sweet Smell of Failure: the World Bank and the Persistence of Poverty

 

Paper delivered to the School of Politics and Government, Birkbeck College, University of London, London, UK, 2000

“… aid is no longer charity. It has become intrinsic to the maintenance of the international capitalist economy … (Fieldhouse 1999).”

By David South

In January 1949, US President Harry Truman set forth a challenge for the remainder of the 20th Century: the wealthy nations must aid the poorer ones to become wealthier and more democratic: in short, to become like the United States (Starke 2001: 143). The means of accomplishing this was to be international development, and its tool, foreign aid. 

Decades later, this dream was being described as a nightmare. One of the most articulate proponents of the aid-is-waste thesis is Graham Hancock. His Lords of Poverty comes down unequivocally on the side of failure. Hancock argues that aid “is a waste of time and money, that its results are fundamentally bad, and that - far from being increased - it should be stopped forthwith before more damage is done (Hancock 1996: 189).”

Hancock originally wrote those words in 1989. Subsequently, a decade has past where international development organizations have attempted to prove the success of development in a wider context of the collapse of the Soviet Union, a crippling economic crisis in Asia and the former Soviet Union, and dizzying changes in information technologies. In addressing the proposition that “by the end of the 20th century, ‘development’ had failed”, it is important to clarify the underlying intentions of interntional development and whi the true actors are, and the interaction of politics and economy. 

This paper will focus on one actor, the World Bank, which has seen itself as the principal international development organization for the past 55 years. I argue that the World Bank has been very successful at building a dependence on development institutions, itself in particular, but has failed at development as it has defined it: the elimination of poverty. The four main power structures underpinning the world economy described by Susan Strange - security, production, financial, and knowledge (Strange 2000: 43-119) - are each addressed by the World Bank’s programmes to varying degrees of success. It is the World Bank’s interaction with these power structures that have been a source of both stability and instability in the past 55 years. 

I have chosen the World Bank because, as Hancock notes, it is

The pace-setter of Development Incorporated … the fact is that all official aid agencies, whether bilateral or multilateral, co-operate very closely with it, imitate its policies and its sectoral priorities and, to a large extent, share what might be called its ‘philosophy of development’. (Hancock 1996: 57)

I conclude that international development is now entering a new phase spurred on by the economic  crisis affecting many developing nations after 1997, and not facing its destruction, in spite of rowdy protests around the world. The Asian Crisis provoked an increase in development spending, while simultaneously significantly raising awareness of international development institutions. At the beginning of the 21st century, the rise of the non-governmental organization as a key actor in development is strongly pronounced. 

The fact that NGOs and private consulting companies are becoming the principal delivery mechanisms for development projects demonstrates a global lack of faith in government-run agencies and a belief in neo-liberal assertions that the private sector can do a better job. 

1. Development: pernicious or persistent? 

The word development needs to be pulled apart. Its endurance as a concept comes down to its ability to mean many things to many people. It is a loaded word, which upon closer inspection, becomes befuddingly vague and as slippery as an oil-soaked eel. 

Development as defined by President Truman at the start of the development period of the 20th century meant “nothing less than freeing a people from want, war, and tyranny, a definition it is hard to improve on even today (Starke 2000: 153).”

Dictionary definitions of development take in ideas of growth, progress and evolution. As Hancock noted in Lords of Poverty, “underdevelped” countries “must in some sense be stunted and backward; ‘developed countries’, by contrast, are fully grown and advanced (Hancock 1996: 41).” Hancock bristles at the moralistic notion that particular countries may need to develop; in this he would probably have clashed with Marx, as Fieldhouse notes: “much as he hated capitalism, Marx saw it as a necessary agency for creating what we now call development in India and, by inference, most parts of the Third World (Fieldhouse 1999: 44).”

A refinement of this definition is one offered by the World Bank’s president in the 1980s, Barber Conable. Development offers measures “to promote economic growth” and “combat poverty”; those are the “fundamental tasks of world development” with the World Bank being the “world’s principal development agency” (Hancock 1996: 41). 

More recently, in answer to heated criticism from donor nations and powerful NGO lobbies, the World Bank has adopted a more urgent tone on poverty. “Poverty reduction is the most urgent task facing our world today. The World Bank’s mission is to reduce poverty and improve living standards through sustainable growth and investment in people (World Bank 2000).”

Assessing development according to the World Bank’s definition of development, with its focus on eliminating poverty, it is very hard to say this has been a success, as I show further on. 

2. Failure thesis: why the World Bank is a flawed poverty-fighter

The notion that development has failed has its critics on both the left and the right. On the right, development is seen as state welfare, bailing out countries that need to get their own houses in order. On the left, development has been seen, variously as a tool of the wealthy states to control the poorer states, a means to prop up corrupt but friendly elites, environmentally destructive, and a subsidy system for multinationals. Marxists have straddled the contradictions of criticising the effects of development while also chastising the wealthy West for not doing enough for the developing nations. 

Since 1990 World Bank cumulative lending has totalled US $162,789.3 million (World Bank Annual Report 2000). Since its inception, global aid has risen from US $1.8 billion a year in the 1950s, to US $6 billion in the 1960s, to US $60 billion in the 1980s, to where it currently stands at US $129.2 billion (World Development Indicators Database). The Bank disburses US $25 billion a year (World Bank). Vast amounts of money is flowing back to the West in the form of payments on debts nearly totalling US $3 trillion (Starke 2000: 153). 

In fact, the World Bank through its lending wings, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Agency (IDA), embodies an inherant contradiction: it has shown itself to be unable to decouple its mandate to recover funds from what might be the wiser strategy. As the Bank puts it, “while the country must “own” its vision and program, the Bank must “own” and be accountable to shareholders for its diagnosis and the program it supports (World Bank).”

Over the development epoch, loans were accepted by countries that have shown themselves to be incapable of repayment, leading to the debt crisis today. While this crippling debt has been accumulated, the world has come no closer to eradicating poverty. 

A brief look at the figures shows the scale of the challenge. Development policies have not been able to come to grips with escalating population rates in developing nations. During the period of development, the population of the regions with the lowest rates of development have risen rapidly. As Strange notes: 

World population doubled between 1950 and 1984, rising rapidly from 2.5 billion to over 4.5 billion and topping 5 billion by the end of the decade… Numbers have increased most dramatically in the three ‘developing’ regions of Latin America, South Asia and Africa … (Strange 2000: 82)

Aid on the macro scale is also unequally divided, with the 10 countries that two-thirds of the world’s poor live in receiving less than a third of overseas development aid (Raffer and Singer 1996). And when it arrives in a country very little of it gets into the hands of the poor. Some generously claim that 20 per cent of aid reaches the poor (Raffer and Singer 1996), while Hancock maintains even less wends its way to the poorest. 

According to the United Nations Development Programme, more than 1.3 billion people live on just US $1 a day; and 2.8 billion live on US $2 a day - nearly half the world’s population (UNDP). This number has remained unchanged since 1990 (Starke 2000: 4). In fact, in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the former communist countries, “the number living in poverty is substantially higher than the figures recorded a decade ago (Starke 2000: 4).” The most noted trend is the diffusion of poverty and its more pronounced ability to sit side-by-side with an economic boom in developing - and developed - countries, fuelled by increased investment, especially in the areas of information technology and telecommunications. 

The World Bank has set the target date of 2015 to cut extreme poverty by half. It remains highly dubious as to how the World Bank has any better idea of how to do this than it did in the first 55 years of development theory and practice. Theories have been misguided in the past, as Fieldhouse reminds us: 

Central to all post-1950 attitudes to Third World development was the belief that the primary need was capital investment. The defining feature of underdevelopment was thought to be lack of sufficient capital to pay the cost of overcoming the perceived ‘structural’ obstacles to development.  A short shopping list of what were then believed to be the necessary measures would include the following: first, the improvement of infrastructure - communications, power and water supplies, urban facilities and hospitals; secondly, education to raise the general level of literacy and to generate skilled workers at all levels, from the highest posts in government and industry, which was believed to be the basis of western affluence and must therefore become that of the Third World. (Fieldhouse 1999: 226)

It has been a period noted by a belief that development could be accelerated, and that the conditions necessary for development were understood and all that was necessary was capital and will. 

In fact international development, when it has intended to eliminate poverty, has been unable to detatch itself from what can only be called the whirlpool effect, or the core-periphery debate: a tendency for wealth and power to be dragged into the centre, like a whirlpool: to wealthier nations, wealthy elites, capital cities. While aid is ostensibly about countering this trend, it fails miserably at doing it. The continent that requires the most aid, Africa, receives the least - in the 1990s the World Bank lent Africa a total of US $1,872.8 million (World Bank). It lent Latin America and the Caribbean US $51,520.8 million (World Bank). If, as Truman said, development is about helping those suffering from want, war and famine, then Africa is being ill served. 

Looking at the evidence, it shows that aid follows the same pattern as private investment, seeking out success stories, rather than the poor, who by definition are society’s losers. It is an established fact that most trade flows and foreign direct investment is between the wealthy countries (Hirst and Thompson 2000: 2). The percentage of world trade captured by the developing countries has dropped from 50 per cent in the 19th century to 22 per cent (Hoogvelt 1997: 14). It is this tendency that builds into international development a peripherising effect that leaves billions on the outside of development and wealth acquisition - and draws the criticism that development has failed at its principal aim, as the World Bank puts it, to reduce poverty.  

3. Security/production

Strange has noted where power lies in the modern world. Those who can influence or determine the structures of power will wield enormous influence over economic and political relations. The World Bank is an institution that has had a profound effect on the power structures of the world economy, with positive and negative consequences. 

Security is the “provision of security by some human beings for others (Strange 2000: 45).” Strange focuses on the state as the primary provider of this security in the current international political system. She also broadens this definition to include “security from slow death by starvation, and security from disease, from disablement, or from all sorts of other hazards - from bankruptcy to unemployment (Strange 2000: 47).” And she attributes most conflict to disagreements over authority. 

One of the biggest challenges now facing developing states is that of authority over their affairs. It is a two-pronged challenge, from outside and from within, as much of development aid now targets NGOs and civil society. 

It is arguable that the World Bank’s greatest contribution to a state is its advice on governance, legislation and anti-corruption. While the World Bank is not tasked with a specific security mandate, it does play a significant role in supporting the viability of nation states, and offers up an off-the-shelf range of authoritative institutions that nation states are advised to take up. Through Structural Adjustment Loans (SAL) and their equivalents, countries are persuaded to adopt these measures or face losing the lifeline of funds. 

These policies also dovetail with global concerns for security and stability, in terms of the absence of conflict and also in terms of predictability. Other governments will feel more comfortable dealing with philosophies and institutions that ring of familiarity. But how susccessful has the World Bank been?

Evidence has shown that the SAL loans and their package of reforms were destabilizing and inherently contradictory. As Hoogvelt illuminates: 

they sought to denationalize the economies themselves by imposing various forms of deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation, indeed the dismantling of the public sector … At the ideological level it made the bailiffs walk a tightrope between, on the one hand re-affirming the notions of national sovereignty and national economy, while at the same time, and on the other hand, confining development economics and any hint of Keynesian notions of national economic management to the dustbins of history. They had to uphold the state and destroy it at the same time! (Hoogvelt 1997: 167)

The results have actually jeopardised security within Africa, and according to Robert Kaplan, the chaos on that continent will wreck havoc outside Africa as well (Kaplan 1994). Security is probably the World Bank’s greatest failure in the four global power structures. Hoogvelt concludes that its legacy in Africa is particularly disturbing: 

In many African countries, the imposition of the neo-liberal orthodoxy, including privatisation of the public sector, the emasculation of the state apparatus and the insistence on electoral reform, has directly contributed to the descent into anarchy and civil wars. (Hoogvelt 1997: 175)

Production as Strange states it, is “the sum of all arrangements determining what is produced, by whom and for whom, by what method and on what terms (Strange 2000: 64).” Production is a bright spot for the World Bank, in that conventional economic statistics have shown a growth in production (even after the 1997 Asian crisis), fuelled by increasing investments in telecommunications, information technologies and greater investment in public utilities (Hirst and Thompson). The World Bank has also an extensive history funding infrastructure projects critical to the functioning of a modern economy, including roads, dams, airports, and ports. There is an extensive literature on the corruption and inefficiency of many of these projects, but at a minimum infrastructure was built. 

The World Bank has been “able to profoundly affect the organisation of production and trade in the periphery to the benefit of the core world capitalist system (Hoogvelt 1997: 166).”

During the World Bank’s tenure, foreign direct investment has gradually increased for these states, but because of an intensification of trade between the wealthy nations, the global distribution of GNP has,

changed little over the 1970s and 1980s, and indeed became more unequal rather than less after the 1970s. What all this shows goes against the sentiment that benefits will ‘trickle down’ to the less well-off nations and regions as investment and trade are allowed to follow strictly market signals. (Hirst and Thompson 1999: 71)

At a minimum, links have been built and could be the basis of a re-alignment of the world economic order under fairer terms. Hoogvelt notes the links are unquestionably tight: 

Structural adjustment has helped to tie the physical economic resources of the African region more tightly into servicing the global system, while at the same time oiling the financial machinery by which wealth can be transported out of Africa and into the global system. (Hoogvelt 1997: 171) 

4. Financial/knowledge

Strange calls financial power the ability to “create credit”. It “implies the power to allow or to deny other people the possibility of spending today and paying back tomorrow, the power to let them excercise purchasing power and thus influence markets for production, and also the power to manage or mismanage the currency in which credit is denominated (Strange 2000: 90).”

The World Bank’s vast lending capabilities, as shown earlier, means the Bank literally has the power to switch the lights on or off in a country’s economy. It has also been in the forefront of creating today’s “casino” economy, as Strange calls it, the 24/7 financial markets. It has served the interests of the core economies in this arrangement, as Hoogvelt elaborates: 

In a world economy dominated by global financial markets, by money careening around the globe at a frenetic pace, the principal national economic objective of the core countries has to be, and indeed has become, one of maintaining the competitive strength of their currency vis-a-vis each other, fighting domestic inflation that threatens this competitive strength, and trying to catch as much as possible of the careening capital flows into the net of their domestic currency areas. (Hoogvelt 1997: 165)

As Fieldhouse reminds us, “In the later twentieth century, in fact, the World Bank and the IMF were the main proponents of free trade and other related principles in the less-developed world. They thus filled the same role as Britain had done a century earlier (Fieldhouse 1999: 20).”

After World War II, it became apparent the world financial system was not going to be able to function with a hands-off United States. The Marshall Plan in Europe established the precendent of significant loans to aid countries to economically “recover”. As these two influential World Bank economists wrote, it was partly about creating conditions amenable to investors’ interests: “Thus, basic fiscal and monetary discipline, including a properly managed exchange rate, helps establish the credibility of economic policy that gives entrepreneurs the confidence to invest (Stiglitz and Squire 2000: 386).” 

And they confirm the whirlpool effect: “Entrepreneurs will not invest in countries where the policy regime is unstable - investors require a degree of certainty (Stiglitz and Squire 2000: 386).”

The World Bank since 1996 has called itself the “Knowledge Bank”, because “We live in a global knowledge economy where knowledge, learning communities, and information and communications technologies are the engines for social and economic development (World Bank).”

In many respects, the World Bank has defined development as most people understand it. As Hancock reminds us, “Consciously or unconsciously we view many critical global problems through lenses provided by the aid industry (Hancock 1996: xiv).” Knowledge and intelligence-gathering is key in an age dominated by information. As Clark notes of development organizations, 

The ‘software’ of their trade - ideas, research, empowerment, and networking - are rapidly becoming more important than their ‘hardware’ - the time-bound, geographically fixed projects, such as wells and clinics. In this new age, information and influence are the dominant currencies rather than dollars and pounds. (Clark 1992: 193)

The vast volume of statistics and reporting produced by the Bank on the global economy is valuable and it is frequently used as a source even by its critics. This quite possibly is the Bank’s greatest success. The Bank’s focus on information technologies is also valuable and it is aiding developing countries around the world to gain access to the internet for example. Keohane notes that information by its very existence can generate greater cooperation between states: 

Informaton, as well as power, is a significant systemic variable in world politics. International systems containing institutions that generate a great deal of high-quality information and make it available on a reasonably even basis to the major actors are likely to experience more cooperation than systems that do not contain such institutions … (Keohane 1984: 245)

Conclusion

Like a chameleon, the political and economic actors in development change their appearance according to evolving conditions. I have argued in this paper that the fundamental needs - a desire for markets, global interconnectivity and political control - ensure the World Bank’s role in international development remains principle to the day-to-day lives of developing countries. It is also a fact that development organizations such as the World Bank have amassed a wealth of knowledge and expertise that binds donor nations to them, though this is being supplanted by NGOs as they in turn create a dependency between themselves and the World Bank. 

The World Bank’s greatest success has been the perpetuation of the development industry and its role vis-a-vis the global power structures. It is particularly remarkable that development aid has been so robust for such a lengthy time, and points to the key needs in the power structure that it fulfils. However, the World Bank has failed to significantly reduce poverty in the world, and since it defines development as principally poverty reduction, its form of development has failed. 

Development aid in and of itself is a highly successful formula, as attested by the boom currently  experienced by NGOs. The trend towards these new actors is well advanced, as The Economist noted: “NGOs have become the most important constituency for the activities of development aid agencies (The Economist 2000: January 27).”

Even more compelling, “Between 1990 and 1994, the proportion of the European Union’s relief aid channelled through NGOs rose from 47% to 67%. The Red Cross reckons that NGOs now disburse more money than the World Bank (The Economist 2000: January 27).”

Unfortunately, there seems to be little evidence that any organization working in development will be out of a job by 2015. In the meantime, the poor remain peripheral actors in a play staged for the benefit of those who are not poor. As Fieldhouse notes: 

Thus aid is no longer charity. It has become intrinsic to the maintenance of the international capitalist economy, a system by which western governments directly or through multilateral agencies, mobilize debtors so that they can continue to meet their obligations to both public and private creditors. (Fieldhouse 1999: 253)  

Friday
Mar102017

In the Interests of the Exploited?: The Role of Development Pressure Groups in the UK

 

Paper delivered to the School of Politics and Government, Birkbeck College, University of London, London, UK, 2000

“Many Northern NGOs have assumed the role of ambassadors for the world’s poor (Clark 1992: 18)."

By David South

The question “Do pressure groups increasingly advance the fancies of the middle classes at the expense of the interests of the exploited?” is particularly relevant when applied to the ever-expanding network of international development pressure groups (IDPG) in the United Kingdom. Many of these groups are based in London, making use of its political networks, diplomatic connections (the UK is signed up to more international covenants and organizations than any other country), excellent travel links and centrality to the global financial system. While these groups promote their work and policies utilising sophisticated advertising and media campaigns (Save the Children Fund, for example, spends £14 million annually), they rarely come under scrutiny for their claims that they “speak for the poor” (Edwards and Hulme 1992: 23). In fact, “Many Northern NGOs have assumed the role of ambassadors for the world’s poor” (Clark 1992: 18). This question is of particular importance because governments are turning more and more to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to administer and deliver international aid projects (Dolen 1992: 19). 

In 1989, Graham Hancock’s seminal book Lords of Poverty singled out government development agencies and the United Nations for being “rich and powerful bureaucracies that have hijacked our kindness” (Hancock 1989: xiii). He, however, deliberately “refrained from mounting an offensive against the voluntary agencies … by and large I believe their staff to be well motivated and their efforts worthwhile … They rarely do significant harm; sometimes they do great good” (Hancock 1989: xiii).

One of the major changes to occur since Hancock wrote those words has been the co-opting and drawing in of development NGOs even further into the priorities of the bilateral and multilateral donors. They have been placed on a pedestal as the voice of the world’s exploited, and lead high-profile pressure campaigns to alter and direct aid and foreign policies of the UK (Jubilee 2000’s drop the debt campaign is one example). This paper will explore whether international development groups “advance the fancies of the middle classes”, looking at their role in UK policy formation, and whether they accurately reflect the wishes of the “exploited” of the world, in this case, the poor (Kanbur and Squire 1999: 1). 

Development pressure groups in this paper include charitable non-governmental organizations engaged in advocacy or project implementation, or both. I have excluded the plentiful university departments that conduct extensive research into development practice and policy. The reason for this is the mandate of charitable development pressure groups: they appeal both to our heart and our head. 

Where we stand now

British development policy has taken on a higher profile under the Labour Government elected in 1997. The Department for International Development (DFID) was set up as a separate department removed from the Foreign Office and given a full-time minister, Clare Short. DFID also released the first white paper in 22 years on international development, Eliminating World Poverty: A Challenge for the 21st Century.

As Short says: 

Now the development interest comes to the top level of the British Government’s considerations. The department is no longer just an aid department. It is now charged with the responsibility of looking at all aspects of policy: trade, debt, environment, agriculture in the global system and ensuring that Britain’s policy on these takes account of the development interests. (Earth Times, 1999)

The Labour Government is seeking to play a key role in the global debate on the future of international development. As part of this approach, the government aspires to work more closely with those NGOs who support their conciliatory approach to global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO). International development pressure groups are thus presented with a tantalising but difficult decision: work closely with the government on achieving its goals - and so gain access to a steady stream of funding - or remain autonomous but risk being frozen out of the mainstream debate. 

The financial stakes are high for the NGOs. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), northern NGOs as a whole spend US $10 billion annually (Smillie 1998: 157). They have evolved into significant economic sectors in their own right, employing thousands, with their tentacles stretching out to the global media and countries around the world. 

In the UK, international development spending is currently £2,367 million annually, of which £182 million is channelled through NGOs (DFID 1999). OECD figures show that aid channelled through NGOs rose from 0.7 percent of all aid in 1975 to 5 percent in 1993 (Covey 1992: 4). As well, the number of international NGOs soared in the last century, from nine in 1909 to 28,900 by 1993 (Covey 1992: 3). 

If aid is a business, then business is good. Save the Children Fund, to take one example, saw its income increase from £6 million in 1981 to £60 million in 1991 (Dolan 1992: 205), to £97.3 million in 1999 (Save the Children Fund website). Of the current budget, £40.9 million comes from grants given by government development agencies. It also spends £14 million a year on publicity and fundraising. 

The “fancies” of the middle class

Interest or pressure groups are in the main a middle-class phenomenon, being largely staffed by the educated middle classes (even so-called ‘working class’ interest groups such as trade union associations can be found to be mainly staffed by the middle classes). They are the product of educated, aspirational citizens who believe they can and should play a role in the world. Moran suggests, “If we are no longer ‘working class’ we can define our social identity and political demands in numerous ways: so groups emerge catering for nuclear pacifists, radical feminists, etc.” (Moran 1985: 236). As Petracca points out, “The rise of citizen groups is probably best explained by a combination of factors: the growth of the middle class in the 1960s, a revolution in communications technology, and the emergence of interest group patrons” (Petracca 1992: 23). 

Since the middle class is the core audience for these IDPGs (they vote in large numbers and they have funds to donate), they also colour the priorities of what gets on the development agenda. 

Over the past 20 years, IDPGs have used a variety of appeals to raise money and exert pressure on the government. In the beginning appeals were driven by humanitarian disasters such as the famine in Biafra in the 1960s. These appeals struck a strong emotional chord, presenting images of extreme suffering at a time when the UK was enjoying a post-war economic boom. More recently appeals have focused on small-scale development projects such as water wells and classrooms. In the 1980s and 1990s they took on a more economic tone, epitomised in the “ethical shopping” encouraged by Oxfam with its line of Bridgehead products. This coincided with the expansion of a consumer culture and is probably the most graphic example of the marriage between humanitarianism and middle-class consumer lifestyles. It effectively promotes the idea that an alternative and fairer economy can be bought, one rainforest chocolate bar at a time. The environmentalist Dobson is especially critical of social change by shopping: “The Body Shop strategy is a hymn to consumption: in their contribution to the Friends of the Earth Green Consumer Week leaflet (12 and 18 September 1988) they urge people to ‘wield their purchasing power responsibly’ rather than to wield it less often” (Dobson 1995: 135). 

In the last couple of years the focus has moved towards the phenomenon of globalisation and a perception that existing internaitonal institutions have failed the poorer countries; that they should be revolutionised or drop-kicked straight out of the global arena. How much are these cries to do with heartfelt concern for the poor of the developing world, and how much to do with middle-class angst over a rapidly changing global order with new economic powers such as China and new uncertainties? Certainly, many of the IDPGs are working both sides of the street, protesting the global institutions and national development agencies while also taking more and more of their grants to fund their activities. 

It was once easy to criticise the international development bureaucracy for leading a life of aloof leisure, jetting from conference to conference, inhabiting a world so far removed from the poor that they might as well be living on another planet. More and more this can be said of the parallel world of international NGOs, whose bureaucrats also hop around the world attending conferences and government meetings. Steve Hellinger, co-founder and president of the Development Group for Alternative Policies, notes that NGOs’ dependence on public monies “has affected the way they deal with policy issues. Instead of representing the interests of the people in the South, they are increasingly supporting the interests of the aid institutions” (New Internationalist, 285, 1996). 

The relationship between the articulated goals of development pressure groups and the effect they have in the countries of the exploited was the subject of a documentary on Channel 4 Television aired in November 2000. The Hunger Business documents the frustrations felt by Africans who found development NGOs put their own preconceptions ahead of asking Africans what they needed or wanted. This led to aid exacerbating many of the conflicts in the region. As Kenneth Hackett of Catholic Relief Services said, “if food keeps them alive to fight a war, then so be it” (The Hunger Business). Aid donations may have been harder to come by if people knew the messy regional politics. 

Pressure and policy

The distinctive nature of the British political and social scene has also contributed greatly to the rise in influence and power of development pressure groups. As far back as the Victorian period, there has been a strong tradition of like-minded individuals banding together to do good works, especially among the poor. Many of today’s British NGOs have their roots in the extensive network of missionary organizations established in this period. 

Britain also has a tradition of seeking help when it decides to alter or expand its role in a particular sphere of influence, which was the case at the turn of the 20th century: 

The British government decided to increase its involvement in the social and economic well-being of its citizens, the friendly society movement was a factor to be reckoned with. The medical profession also claimed to speak for the general public as well as its members. (Van Der Valk 1998: 112)

There are strong parellels between this time and the current political climate. Unlike the Conservative government before it, the Labour government under Tony Blair has made it explicit policy to increase funding of, and involvement in, international aid and development. It has broadened its areas of interest (thus needing expertise from NGOs) and is also seeking lobbying power in order to exercise greater influence in the global negotiating game to reform and alter major international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Its new priorities include poverty elimination by 2015, empowerment of women, human rights for all, making government work for poor people, including better health care, tackling the water crisis and expanding primary education (DFID). 

These priorities dovetail well with those of NGOs such as WaterAid, Oxfam and Save the Children Fund, which also have a storehouse of experience and contacts in these areas. 

To have any influence on policy-making in the British parliamentary system like-minded individuals must form interest groups. 

Of all the Western democracies, Britain has perhaps the longest-established interest group system. Thus, despite the lack of a written consitution, British policy-making has certain well-established procedures - standard operating procedures - which generally accord interest groups a key role in the policy process. (Richardson 1993: 86)

Nowhere has this become more strongly felt than in international development. NGOs have altered what development means and broadened it to include a wide range of community activities. The symbiotic relationship is mirrored in the policy goals of the Department for International Development. 

As Weir and Beetham note: “The relationship between organised interests and departmental officials varies across policy domains, but many interest groups perform an intimate role in the way policies are formulated and are often vital to policies being carried through in practice” (Weir and Beetham 1999: 271). 

This is also a game in which presentation and professionalism wield influence. IDPGs invest heavily in a range of publications to communicate their views and use the latest in information technology to influence public opinion.  As their funds have grown, they have been in the forefront of adopting the sophisticated marketing techniques developed by major corporations. This becomes a virtuous circle, in which more sophisticated communications and marketing creates a more professional public image and in turn draws in more funds. The more funds available to plough into modern communications and research, the greater the pontential impact on the government. Wealthy organizations “naturally achieve their objectives more readily than poorer pressure groups which do not represent powerful sectional interests whose cooperation government departments require” (Beetham and Weir 1999: 275). 

Development pressure groups have in many ways been the beneficiaries of the same neo-liberal propensity to private execution as the UK’s business lobby. Contracting out and privatisation are a reflection of dwindling faith in the public sector’s ability to meet people’s needs. 

There is also another factor influencing the IDPGs’ rise in power. Mulgan calls this a period in which “weak” organizations have the advantage over traditionally “strong” orgnisations such as the civil service or political parties (Mulgan 1990: 347). He sees both the marketplace and interest groups of like-minded individuals as offering more choice and opportunity than the traditional institutions of democracy. In this environment the opinionated pressure groups will be able to exert greater influence. They are fleet-footed, able to push the agenda ahead, while civil servants are hampered by protocol and hierarchies: “The most significant factors are the general ascendance of free market economics (Toye 1987) and its corollary, a belief that government agencies are ineffective” (Dolan 1992: 203). 

These groups also benefit from the decline of rigid class-based politics in the UK. “As support for the two big class-based parties has diminished, so cause-based pressure group activity has won popular support” (Jones and Kavanagh 1994: 236). 

They are quintessentially modern organizations, placing more value in intelligence-gathering and opinion-forming than in traditional project managment. As Clark notes, “The ‘software’ of their trade - ideas, research, empowerment, and networking - are rapidly becoming more important than their ‘hardware’ - the time-bound, geographically fixed projects, such as wells and clinics. In this age, information and influence are the dominant currencies rather than dollars and pounds” (Clark 1992: 193). 

Ear to the ground: do the exploited have a voice?

According to the United Nations Development Programme, more than 1.3 billion people live on just US $1 a day (UNDP). Concern for the world’s most exploited is on the official development agenda of all Western governments. Most governments in the developed world explicitly acknowledge that extreme poverty is the most vicious form of exploitation that can be experienced by a human being. Awareness of the plight of people in developing countries is widespread, in that most people generally believe life must be, as Hobbes put it, “poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

One of the key claims of NGOs is that they have an extra ear to the ground when it comes to understanding the needs of the world’s poor. Certainly, the world has become a more vocal place with the rise in freedom of expression and electronic communications in many countries. As Covey remarks, “Democratisation, in its messy evolution in societies around the globe, tugs NGOs toward a more active policy-influencing role as more political space opens for people’s voices in public affairs” (Covey 1992: 167). 

But there is now a growing body of evidence that development pressure groups are not as tuned in to the needs of the exploited as they claim. The advocacy role of these NGOs in Northern countries such as the UK has been criticised by NGOs in developing countries, who say they are making policy suggestions without consulting fully the people who would be most affected by them. 

Covey adds: “Recent doubts expressed by Southern NGOs about the advocacy role of NGOs in the North (speaking ‘on behalf the poor’) provide one illustration of this difficult issue” (Covey 1992: 14). 

Covey calls the devolution of power and funds to NGOs a phenomenon equivalent to the rise of the nation state in the 19th century (Covey 1992: 4). This is called “New Policy Agenda”, and is characterised by neo-liberal economics and liberal democratic theory. 

IDPGs may express a concern for the exploited, but in practical terms they are often more accountable to their funders. Smillie notes: 

Despite the growing consensus that people’s participation is a hallmark of good development projects, NGOs are seldom formally structured to ensure their accountability to grassroots organizations. In fact, NGO accountability procedures are most often designed to meet donor needs rather than grassroots objectives. (Smillie 1998: 170)

Research into social movements and advocacy organizations working with the poor has shown an overarching tendency to seek stability and co-optation over confrontation with elites. A study conducted after the turbulent and socially active late 1960s and 1970s found that: 

In the largest part organisers tended to work against disruption because, in their search for resources to mainstream their organizations, they were driven inexorably to elites, and to the tangible and symbolic supports that elites could provide. (Cloward and Piven: xxii)

The effect development NGOs have on the communities they seek to serve also is not wholly helpful. Many “NGOs are seen as eroding the power of progressive political formations by preaching change without a clear analysis of how that change is to be achieved; by encouraging income-generating projects that favour the advancement of a few poor individuals but not ‘the poor’ as a class; and by competing with political groups for personal and popular action” (Edwards and Hulme 1992: 20).

Hellinger criticises these organizations for often ignoring local views and destroying local initiatives: 

The policies of aid are being made from afar and creating an environment that makes local-level development more difficult than ever. People are being forced to look continually outward for answers - for money, markets, advice, technology. The solutions are being found less and less often within these societies. It’s debilitating. (New Internationalist, 285, 1996)

Conclusion

There is ample evidence that internaitonal development pressure groups are in need of even greater scrutiny. Their power grew during the 1990s, and they have been targeted by international institutions and national governments to be the primary delivery mechanism for international aid projects. Much of this process has passed quietly by, with little open debate as to the suitability of these organizations to speak for the poor. The most vocal criticisms have come from NGOs based in developing countries, but they have proven to be a weak match for the generously funded publicity operations of Northern NGOs. 

If NGOs represent the next major social and political transformation in the UK and around the world, then an open and vigorous debate is even more urgent. NGO leaders are not elected by universal franchise and are only answerable directly to the boards of their respective organizations. As Hancock informs us, international development is neither benign nor wholly beneficial. It is a major actor in the power dynamics of the world. “At a more general level, foreign aid - now worth almost (US) $60 billion a year - has changed the shape of the world in which live and had a profound impact on all our thinking. Consciously or unconsciously we view many critical global problems through lenses provided by the aid industry” (Hancock 1989: xiv). 

Less than 20 percent of aid actually reaches the poor (Raffer and Singer 1996), and two-thirds of the world’s poor live in 10 countries that together receive less than a third of overseas development aid (Raffer and Singer 1996). Surely this is testament alone to a failure to help the most exploited in their lobbying efforts. It is certainly an unimpressive trickle when taken as whole. 

International development pressure groups are a large and wealthy lobbyist of the UK government. They are a vast economic sector with many vested interests, including paid staff, government contracts and the political agendas of their private donors. Their reach is global and they have a significant impact on the economies and societies of countries around the world. 

There is ample evidence to suggest international development pressure groups are accountable to many masters; the world’s poor, unfortunately, are not always among them.