Monday, June 12, 2006

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were a “Utopian, feel-good scheme” bound to fail because no single aid agency was held responsible for anything.

That was the word from New York University economics professor, William Easterly, speaking at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa in Cape Town this week .

Easterly described the MDGs as “the worst designed incentive scheme for public policy seen in my lifetime”.

The MDGs are a set of eight goals which set specific targets – to be met by 2015 – around poverty, education and health.

Easterly said the MDGs were 54 “arbitrary numerical targets” designed from “the top down” to which 191 leaders, not countries, had signed – many of whom had not previously demonstrated a commitment to United Nations declarations nor were truly democratically accountable.

“Collective responsibility and multiple goals can’t result in progress. A lot more can be achieved by social entrepreneurs and motivated individuals who have incentives to take on specific problems and deliver to the poor,” he said.

This was the failure of foreign aid, which focused on “sweeping goals” instead of smaller projects.

The director of the MDG Centre in Kenya, Glenn Denning, said that if Easterly’s attitude was widely held, the goals were doomed to fail.

A target-based approach was essential, he agreed, but dismissed the idea that the MDGs were too ambitious and such a set of quantifiable goals destined countries to fail. The MDGs, he said, were “very minimal goals” and governments had to set targets.

The director of the Poverty Reduction Group of the World Bank in Washington, John Page, said the MDGs were useful for benchmarking in that they created a league table which allowed for progress comparison among the countries involved.

In a separate plenary session, Premier Ebrahim Rasool said the debate about the impact of Asian economies on South Africa was largely formed, from a sub-national level, around job losses from the low cost of textile goods manufactured there.

He said this prevented South Africans from taking “a continental view” about how countries like China and India could positively affect the transformation of Africa – especially in terms of commodities trading.

Minister of trade and industry, Mandisi Mpahlwa, said China and India understood the development challenges South Africa experienced, as they also had “huge amounts” of people dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods.

“This provides scope for a new basis for relating with the African continent that will be beneficial to us,” he said.

Source: Cape Times (link opens in a new window)