I worked for almost a decade in the UN, focused on international development policy, including the governance of aid. And the international development assistance system can certainly be critiqued in many ways.
I myself am a supporter of "trade AND aid" to boost development prospects of poor countries. I think you need both to truly accelerate a country's development prospects. (READ: Toward free and fair trade)
Does foreign aid work?
Notwithstanding the criticism, aid has also improved in some areas. For example, the Paris Declaration on Foreign Aid by donor countries is seen as weak, but it has triggered some improvements nonetheless. (SEE for example: Yes, the Paris declaration on aid has problems but it’s still the best we have)
Is aid wasted? It takes two to tango – the aid giver should ideally be motivated by the development of the recipient (and not merely use aid as a tool for foreign policy or boosting domestic interests); while the aid recipient should ideally have a clean government that seeks to maximize the benefits of aid. In some cases, we have neither, yet in others we have both, or just one.
Aid can succeed; and there are many success stories. For instance, controlling the spread of onchocerciasis in Africa, and the campaign to eradicate polio are among the efforts that have certainly produced good results.
Aid in modern times, and for lower middle income recipient countries like the Philippines, has increasingly been targeted at "upstream reforms". They are less directly focused on relief programs (like vaccinations, food assistance, and the like). They are more optimally directed at reforming the policies and governance of the recipient country – so that resources far greater than the aid itself (and owned by the recipient country) could be better directed to produce stronger and country-owned development results.
Does the Philippines need aid?
Aid for countries like ours that are actually awash with resources could still prompt structural reforms that otherwise would have been technically or politically difficult to push by reformists in aid recipient countries.
Our study on political dynasties, for example, which few would touch with a 10-foot-pole in the Philippines (let alone fund), was supported through the help of German taxpayers. Hopefully, it will trigger the kind of soul-searching and reforms that will help strengthen our democratic institutions, from which future generations in our country will benefit from.
Finally, I think the recent decision to defer the Philippines' access to the MCC funds is disappointing on two levels. First, the funds were directed heavily to help boost the development of Mindanao and promote structural reforms that would promote more inclusive development nationwide. These are areas that we could certainly use more help in strengthening, largely because of our difficult politics and governance.
Second, this sends a signal of our regression to the international community, throwing into question the strength of our rule of law once again. We are a country that values human rights. And I believe our security forces, our government, and our nation are capable of succeeding in the campaign against drugs, while also respecting the rights of all our citizens. The welfare and rights of our citizens and our youth are, after all, the main reason why this is worth embarking on in the first place. – Rappler.com
*The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of the Ateneo de Manila University. Ronald U Mendoza is the Dean of the Ateneo School of Government (ASOG).