A one-year inquiry aimed at reforming technical cooperation has been launched by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank Institute, according to a statement issued today by the international financial institution.
Called "Ready for Change?," the initiative will involve a series of seven focus studies and seven country studies on technical cooperation, which the Bank says can be defined as development assistance through the use of advisors, consultants, and teachers, as well as all types of training. The effort comes in response to the "fierce" debate which has surrounded technical cooperation.
"Ready for Change?" took its first step last month at a conference in Geneva which brought together more than 50 professionals, researchers and political and grassroots leaders.
Addressing that gathering, UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown said technical cooperation must be reformed to allow recipients to choose the sources and types of expertise they get. Joining the call for change, the South African Minister for Public Service and Administration, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, said the centrality of power and vested interests which are embedded in the development industry should also be addressed.
The meeting confronted a frequent criticism of technical cooperation - that it bypasses parliamentary scrutiny and budgetary procedures, and sometimes even undermines local institutions. The former Finance Minister of Mozambique, Abdul Magid Osman, recalled that he had once been approached by a provincial governor who sought $50,000 for 100 additional teachers - a request that he had to decline for lack of funds. Instead, an expatriate consultant was hired using $150,000 out of a technical cooperation budget. "Unfortunately, Osman's experience does not appear to be unique," the Bank said.
The Bank also noted other criticisms of technical cooperation, including the practice of tied assistance, which involves selecting experts from among the donor country's nationals rather than using qualified individuals from other States. Critics also say expatriate consultants are used excessively, reports are written in hotel rooms in isolation from on-the-ground realities, and overall, technical cooperation fails to create sustainable local institutions.
Financed in part by the Dutch Government, "Ready for Change?" will seek to identify alternatives and options and forge alliances for the reform of technical assistance for capacity development.