French statesman Georges Clemenceau
once said "war was too important
to be left to the generals".
In a similar vein, development aid in
Iraq is too important to be left to the
foreign aid non-government organisations.The
most pressing short-term task is to get
basic infrastructure systems, including
electricity, water, hospitals and police
system, running again. Aside from the
Iraqis, this is best done by organisations
that build and run such systems - commercial
private contractors. Foreign aid NGOs
have little to contribute.
Iraq also has little need for Western
aid workers. It is no East Timor. It has
a large indigenous pool of skilled people
on which to draw. An influx of well-paid
aid workers will only breed resentment
when there are many Iraqis capable of
performing such duties.
The long-term task is to help the Iraqis
establish an open, democratic, constitutional,
federal political system based on the
rule of law and religious tolerance as
part of the global capitalist system.
In short, we need to help them develop
a political system similar to ours.
This won't be easy, given that the Middle
East is a region of dictators, with only
one real democracy (Israel). Perversely,
this is the country in that part of the
world that Australian foreign aid NGOs
dislike the most. For example, the so-called
regional fact-finding report and public
education campaign of Union Aid Abroad-Australian
People for Health, Education and Development
Abroad, the ACTU's overseas aid organisation,
are little more than Israel bashing.
Foreign aid NGOs have little to offer
and a great capacity to do harm.
When Prime Minister John Howard recently
met Megawati Sukarnoputri, he was keen
for assurances that Indonesia did not
regard Australia as anti-Islamic over
its stance in Iraq. The Indonesian President's
primary concern, however, lay with the
actions of Australian aid NGOs and their
active support for separatist movements
Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA is a case in
point. Its annual report states that although
acting as an Australian-funded aid NGO
in Indonesia, the West Bank and Gaza,
it "campaigns in support of independence
in West Papua [and] Palestine".
Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA is not alone.
Oxfam Community Aid Abroad has a history
of playing politics while acting as a
foreign aid agency. Years ago it was given
a choice by the Indonesian government
to choose between delivering aid and political
activism. It chose the latter. As a result,
it was persona non grata in Indonesia
for the best part of a decade. What this
reveals is that OCAA regards political
activism as its core function, not delivering
OCAA's political activities have not
been confined to Indonesia. OCAA has had
links with a long list of insurgent groups,
including the Front for the Liberation
of Mozambique (FRELIMO), the Tigray People's
Liberation Front and the Eritrean People's
Foreign aid NGOs have come to be preferred
deliverers of aid on the claims that they
are cost-effective, have links with "civil
society" and are effective in mobilising
money and people. All these claims are
at best questionable, particularly in
Arguments about cost-efficiency are
irrelevant when foreign aid NGOs contracted
by government go out and become involved
in politics, contrary to the wishes and
interests of the Australian Government.
The sector's near unanimous condemnation
of the recent liberation of Iraq illustrates
its lack of links with Iraqi civil society
and reveals that its understanding of
the aspirations of the Iraqi people is
weak and distorted.
Money is not a long-term problem for
Iraq. It would be one of the richest countries
if not for Saddam Hussein. All that needs
to be done is to get the oil flowing with
the assistance of private contractors
and to ensure that the payments are used
to help rebuild Iraq rather than repay
Hussein's debts to his Russian and French
arm suppliers. It does not need the foreign
aid NGOs' money.
Post-Hussein Iraq will be a fragile
and volatile political environment. It
does not need Western political activists
pushing Western activist agendas and getting
involved in Iraqi politics.
If the behaviour of foreign aid NGOs
in Indonesia is any guide, it is not in
Australia's or Iraq's national interest
to have them involved in rebuilding Iraq.