Published on December 5th, 2008 | by admin0
“This is not about gaining rights over assets”
John Wingle, Director of MCC Namibia, speaks to insight
What is MCC? JW: MCC is the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a US government agency that was started in 2004 as part of an initiative to increase US development assistance worldwide. MCC operates currently in 18 countries. One of the things that makes MCC unique from other developmental assistance is that we are exclusively focussed on economic growth. United States development assistance more broadly focuses on humanitarian assistance, helping countries out of natural disasters, environmental issues, democracy building, I think a total of 50 different goals in the Foreign Assistance Act. In those 50 different goals we found that economic growth, which is a long-term goal of poverty reduction was getting crowded out by some of the more short-term immediate needs of reacting to natural disasters and post-conflict situations. Namibia in 2005 was selected as one of those countries that have a good policy environment. What does good policy environment mean? JW: The indicators that are used are published on our website once a year. They basically fall into three categories. The first category is ruling justly – democracy and governance. The second category is health and education – it looks both at how much the country is spending on health and education and the outcomes that they are achieving with that. The third category is economic freedom – looking at the investment environment, trade policy, inflation and fiscal policy. On that basis we compare countries relative to their peers. They have to be better than average on half the indicators. Do we understand correctly that Namibia was not an automatic beneficiary?JW: There are two categories of countries that we fund and that’s based on income level. Those countries that are lower income countries we are allowed to fund with about 75 percent of our resources. Then there is a separate category of countries that are lower-middle income countries where Namibia falls. The only other country in that category to have signed the compact is El Salvador. I think Namibia, relative to its population size and the size of its economy, is receiving a fairly large compact, US$300 million, which is a little over N$3 billion at the current (28 October) exchange rate. We do have larger compacts with Mozambique, Tanzania and Ghana. But their populations are closer to 20 million. The country I worked in prior to Namibia, Honduras, the compact there was US$215 million, at a population of seven million people. Why are we getting that amount of funding? JW: There is not a magic number that we give to each country. It is a process based on the proposal, the quality of the proposal versus other countries and what our funding availability is in each year. Let us talk about the criticism that has come the way of MCC. Did that surprise you? JW: It surprised me very much. It is something we haven’t encountered in other countries. That type of criticism I think is unfortunate. There is a misunderstanding about the conditions precedent and performance targets in some of the agreements. There are also legitimate questions that members of parliament have raised and we are working to answer those questions in conjunction with the government of Namibia. What are those legitimate questions? JW: I think one question is how Namibian law relates to the international agreement. As you know an international agreement has [at least] two legal systems to deal with. You have the United States legal system and the Namibian legal system. In order for us to sign an agreement and be assured that what we signed can be enforced, and without ourselves being experts in Namibia law, normally international agreements are placed above national laws. And that is one of the reasons they are approved by the parliament as, inevitably, there will be conflict between US law and Namibian law. Rather than picking one of those jurisdictions you choose the jurisdiction of international law. USAID and other US funding flowed into Namibia. Why have they not gone through the same route? JW: In some cases I think you may not have been aware of it. A lot of international programmes do go through the parliament. In other cases [the donor] government will be administering the funds. In our case this funding will be a grant to the government of Namibia and part of the requirement for that is since its US government resources, rather than using US procurement rules or Namibian procurement rules, we are using international procurement rules that allow for a level playing field for all competitors. The reason why we do that is we are most interested in getting good quality schools built, good quality libraries built, getting the textbooks at the cheapest prices. And whatever contractor can do that to an acceptable quality of work will be the one doing that work. What else is justified, especially if one looks at attacks from organisations like the Swapo Youth League? JW: In a democracy it is perfectly normal to expect and encourage questions and consultations about the actions of the government. But there is also a time for answering those questions. Some of the final language will make it even clear what the intent of this is. Why was a condition made about concessions in or around Etosha?JW: Because we want to ensure that as we are investing in the infrastructure of Etosha that the conservancies that border Etosha also benefit from this. Currently the conservancies are bearing only the costs. When a lion escapes or an elephant escapes there is damage to their life and crops. They have had no opportunity to benefit from tourism. We would like to see those conservancies be able to establish lodges that will be on the property of the conservancies and that those conservancies would have access into portions of Etosha so that they could develop tourism and allow them to create buffer zones around Etosha. But none of this has anything to do with the US government. The US government isn’t issuing concessions, the US government isn’t reviewing the concessions. It isn’t involved in that process. The government of Namibia is issuing the concessions to allow poor rural Namibians to benefit. But the suspicion persists that Americans want to take our pristine Etosha, to take our land. JW: There is nothing in the document that suggests we have that intent. The programme includes construction of 47 schools, three libraries, nine vocational training centres; it will put one textbook in the hand of every learner in the country, so you won’t have four or five children sharing a handbook. That will be for science, math and English. In tourism it will ensure that Etosha’s infrastructure is upgraded. It will ensure that they have the ability to relocate game to adjacent conservancies, the ability to maintain the road network within Etosha. It will give rural conservancies the ability to establish lodges in joint venture with private sector. It will increase the marketing of Namibia internationally to bring in more tourism arrival. It looks at the livestock and exports. I think that’s what the focus should be on, on the content of the programme. There is nothing in those documents that has anything to do with the US purchasing Etosha or gaining any rights over any assets. What do you make of the criticism that you attached strings to the grant? JW: I think you have to put yourself in the shoes of the US taxpayer. If we told the US taxpayer that we are giving aid to a country and we have no provision to ensure that the money is spent properly and it is effective, I don’t think they would want to be spending that money. There has been a perception in the United States for some time that the money we give in foreign assistance isn’t always used as effectively as it could be. And so most provisions in the compact are to ensure that the money is not subject to fraud, waste and abuse and that the programmes have their intended impact.