Saturday, 12 May 2012

Raspberry jam …

Richard Feachem prompted me to read the outstanding essay The Clash of the Counter-bureaucracy and Development by Andrew Natsios (Center for Global Development, 2010), probably the most indicting document on aid bureaucracy yet! Here’s the ‘Up-front Quote’:


Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been diligently complying with your requests which have been sent by His Majesty’s ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch to our headquarters.
We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles, and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s Government holds me accountable. I have dispatched reports on the character, wit and spleen of every officer. Each item and every farthing has been accounted for with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.
Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash and there has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain. This reprehensible carelessness may be related to the pressure of circumstance, since we are at war with France, a fact which may come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall.
This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government so that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains. I construe that perforce it must be one of two alternative duties, as given below. I shall pursue either with the best of my ability, but I cannot do both:

1.) To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London or, perchance…

2.) To see to it the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.

Your most obedient servant,


11 August 1812

… and here’s the Abstract:

One of the little understood, but most powerful and disruptive tensions in established aid agencies lies in the clash between the compliance side of aid programs—the counter-bureaucracy—and the technical, programmatic side. The essential balance between these two in development programs has now been skewed to such a degree in the U.S. aid system (and in the World Bank as well) that the imbalance threatens program integrity. The counter-bureaucracy ignores a central principle of development theory—that those development programs that are most precisely and easily measured are the least transformational, and those programs that are most transformational are the least measurable. Relieving the tension between the counter-bureaucracy and development practice would require implementing new measurement systems, conducting more research on overregulation and its effects, reducing the layers of oversight and regulation, and aligning programmatic goals with organizational incentives.

What’s the answer? Most likely ‘output-based aid’, sometimes called ‘cash on delivery’ or ‘results-based financing’. More of this, especially in the WASH sector, to come …

PS: Still too many ‘accountants and copy-boys’ in London … and Washington and Paris and …!