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Monday, 16 October 2006
Page: 126


Mr BRENDAN O’CONNOR (9:10 PM) —I rise to continue with some of the comments I made in the grievance debate today in relation to the international week against poverty. In that contribution I suggested that some of the goals of the World Bank were not as successful or effective in eradicating poverty as they might want to be. I suggested, therefore, that there were other ways to proceed and indicated that debt relief, for example, is not necessarily the most effective means.

Before I managed to finish my contribution my time was up. I want to add some further comments to this very important matter. Having dismissed the notion that debt relief is the be all and end all, it is clear that trade is essential to the Millennium Development Goals, especially agricultural trade liberalisation. It can yield the growth and poverty elimination which aid cannot. The main requirement is for the European Community and the United States to stop their unfair agricultural protectionism. If we are genuine about our concerns about poverty in undeveloped countries, trade is the best way for them to develop.

There are other observations I would make with respect to the millennium goals and, indeed, their targets and whether those targets are achievable. As I said earlier today, unfortunately if one was to assess the progress of the targets they would see that many of them are far from being achievable. It is therefore important that we look at other ways to mitigate the adverse effects of poverty on so many millions of people.

I want to point out that it is rather unfortunate that the focus on women, MDG 3, is targeted solely on educational inequality. That is not the only inequality suffered by women and it is certainly not one which can be addressed rapidly. By contrast, the Grameen Bank and its founder, Muhammad Yunus, the heroic Bangladeshi economist who was recently and rightly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, has managed to organise small-scale finance for groups of poor women who lack collateral, which shows that the scarcity of capital is equally an impediment to equality and that that scarcity can be addressed quickly and successfully. We should turn our aid effort powerfully to propagating and improving these microfinance institutions.

There are other ideas that should be given priority—plans to target infant mortality or adult diabetes, which is common in Melanesian and Polynesian societies, food security or water purity. There are proposals to create a postgraduate core of teachers—who would spend two years in teaching or teaching assistant roles—that attract decent salaries and target primary and secondary schools. There are ideas that would help, for example, PNG to deal with what looks very much like a decimation from HIV-AIDS—throwing more resources at that particular problem.

The overall assessment of multilateral aid in the past quarter of a century is that it has been a failing enterprise. There is a reading of this history, and of the history of the World Bank, which argues that much of the blame must be sheeted home to a lack of focus, a multiplicity of objectives and a kind of faddishness. Thus the activities of the World Bank have been blown off course variously by a sudden faddish twist of the whole organisation towards debt relief on one occasion, the war on drugs on another or, more recently, alarmist environmental concerns.

Of course, none of these things is necessarily wrong or objectionable, but this preparedness to continually reinvent the World Bank has resulted in it becoming a rudderless ship. There is in the MDGs, in their unwieldy and overarching coverage, an eerie reminiscence, a horrible feeling that we are going to do the whole thing over again, just more rapidly, in 15 years rather than 25. All but the most accomplished jugglers find it easier to keep one ball in the air than several. The World Bank and the aid community have not shown themselves to be accomplished jugglers. It is the role of political leaders to make them focus and to stop aid being hijacked, as it has been repeatedly since 1950. (Time expired)