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Jan Pronk on Development Aid 15Jan 1997


JANUARY 1 -15, 1997




Jan Pronk, Minister for Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, met with

The Earth Times, in The Hague. Excerpts from the interview:

Do you think liberalization and globalization can eliminate poverty and help countries develop?

I am afraid that structurally, globalization together with liberalization does lead to more inequality.

Inherently competition will take place between nations and between firms on the basis of cost reductions. And that means that you have the tendency to be as flexible as possible. Which means capital and technology are the most important factors of production.  And  you put labor and nature as second-rate factors of production, which are much more difficult to handle as compared to capital and technology.  And if that is the  case, then cost reductions always win mean reductions of labor cost and the neglect of nature. And we have had such a period before in the history of economic development, say about 100 years ago, within the nation states.

In terms of a policy of economic and technological progress, forgetting people, trying to decrease the labor costs. But at that time we noticed that it was not sustainable   economically and socially, because we need people as consumers. Now we don’t need people as consumers within our nation because outside our nation there are many. And they are not far away. You can reach them easily. Distance is not a problem any more. Time is not a problem. We can overcome all of these. Which means there is no social limitation to a policy which tries to maximize economic growth only on the basis of utilization of capital and technology. Which means that it’s much easier than 100 years ago to exclude countries or classes.

How do you justify development aid to your people, whereas countries that have received the aid go up in smoke or have dictatorship and conflicts?

 That means that you have to redirect assistance to very specific programs which are contributions to avoid escalation of violence.  So you don’t give assistance to a country; you give assistance to a process.  Or we only give humanitarian assistance in the situation of the conflict, which is to a certain extent the case in Afghanistan, Liberia, Somalia and Sudan and other countries. Which means that you just pick up the pieces.

And then there is a third way. And that is to interfere politically, without humanitarian assistance, to benefit human individuals. It’s the liberation of individual people, not only the liberation of nations—humanitarian defence with political means, with diplomatic means, where the international community is engaged to lay the basis again for stable, sustainable, economic, social and political development.  Which then also may mean that you give development assistance, not humanitarian assistance only in order to pick up the pieces.

Try to heal societies by building national movements. By creating possibilities for people not to be recruited as soldiers by the war lords, by creating alternatives for them in order to enable them to continue to feed their own families. It is assistance towards a process towards development, endogenous. And it is easy in my view to explain that to our own tax payers. When I’m doing so, I always say that I am aware of the fact that it is risky. Because you are making mistakes.

But I always add to this that if you want to play it safe, you take a greater risk. Because if you  want to play it safe you stay out until they have solved their own problem. Which is not only their own problem any more. And they can’t solve it because it is a war, because it definitely will create a greater conflict.

So is there a way the donors can ensure that recipient countries pursue a sensible policy andpractice good governance?

I would say yes. First by giving you an example. If we have bad governance ourselves here then there is no possibility to say to other countries that there should be good governance. Because when you are not credible then you are easily labeled as hypocritical. The greatest contribution towards the preservation of human rights in countries overseas is the preservation of human rights over here. I am proud as a Westerner, as a Dutchman, to have an open society which is based on mutual respect. Which is really democratic. We have human rights being preserved. It’s a model in a way. And people may refer to it. This is in my view, is a contribution.

Then secondly, give assistance to those who are themselves credible institutions, movements, units in favor of democracy and human rights in their own countries. Give them space and give them some support. That’s the second possibility.

Thirdly, show understanding for their difficulties, the complexities within other societies. Try to understand, try to learn, try not to be arrogant, try not to preach. And that means that you have to sometimes compromise.

That’s also why I call myself a reformer. Step by step, but it should be step by step forward.It should not be stagnation. In a conflict situation you have to avoid a dead end. Well, you need institutions for this.  You need international democracy.  You need capacity.  And international capacity is lacking.

What must the World Trade Organization do to encourage equitable trade?

Firstly, it is very important to give all the least developed countries free access to the markets of the richer countries. And not only tariffs, but also non tariff barriers. There are so many interests within richer countries who are still not willing to grant that. I would say this is a  major short-term target to be met. For the longer run, I think WTOshould be

different from  GATT by being more comprehensive. Not only trade related, but trade and environment, trade and social policy, trade and investment.

Dealing only with trade is not enough.  And I would say that this is very important for the world as a whole, for future generations to have good international environmental laws as far as trade and the investments are concerned. And the same is also true as far as social

policies are concerned. I am in favor of discussions on, for instance, child labor and trade within a multilateral framework.

What are the Netherlands’s priorities when it takes over the presidency of the European Union?

In my own field of development, there is one. And that is what we call, in the Council of Ministers for Development Corporation, coherence. We have come to the conclusion, all of us, that our aid policies are not coherent with our trade policies, migration policies and environmental policies. For instance, we give aid to developing countries, and if on that basis these countries develop a specific industry, we close our borders for the imports. This is not coherent. Now we have become aware of that deficiency. But it always leads to discussions on the necessity to be more coherent.

What we now would like to do is to be concrete on the basis of specific issues, like the issue of food and agriculture, the implementation of the agenda of the World Food Summit.

We must make it be possible to foster development, which creates opportunities for people to stay at home, rather than always wander around the world in order to find an economic means of survival. If you do not create those opportunities you make life for these people very difficult and they are bound to leave, on behalf of their family or their village, for better prospects.

Now, if we speak about prevention of conflicts, and at the same time dump weapons in those societies, it is not coherent. Now all these issues we would like to put on the  agenda. Not only on the agenda of the Ministers for Development Cooperation, but to make an effort to put all these issues on the agendas of all ministers-agriculture, foreign affairs, social policy, migration– in order to find a coherent overall integrated approach.