Corruption and foreign aid


Madam, - Senator Mary Henry (August 5th) is not quite au fait with the way Irish NGOs operate overseas.

While several agencies still provide their development assistance directly via their own staff, others, including Oxfam, have a policy of working through local grass-roots organisations wherever possible.

This approach adds local knowledge and cultural sensitivity to the work. There are also the benefits of strengthening indigenous civil society organisations and involving them in deciding what is in their own best long-term interests.

It is, however, a more difficult way of working than keeping complete control in the hands of the foreign (i.e. Irish) NGO. One has to take the time to nurture a good understanding of local people and organisations, and also to establish effective reporting and monitoring arrangements. But then we believe that these are prerequisites of good quality work anyway.

There is, therefore, an alternative to the simple choice between placing funds in the hands of potentially corrupt foreign governments, and direct implementation by foreign NGOs.

All three approaches have their place. Direct NGO action is often, but not always, best when dealing with sudden disasters. Poor country governments, as the predominant providers of basis health and education services, need to be engaged directly. But irreversible, long-term improvements in poor people's lives ultimately means them taking active responsibility for their own futures - which is only what all of us want! - Yours, etc.,

Dr BRIAN SCOTT, Chief Executive, Oxfam Ireland, Burgh Quay, Dublin 2.