Tuesday, April 26, 2005 

Plugging the Leaks in the Foreign Aid Bucket

Billions of dollars of financial aid are being spent each year in developing nations. Billions of dollars are also squandered by the same recipient nations. When the King of Swaziland asked for aid to help his poor country, he saw fit to spend money on a presidential plane while his citizens are in dire need of food aid and dying of AIDS. Many other governments siphon off the money to buy themselves luxury cars, new houses, expensive vacations instead of applying it directly to the needs of their poor populations.

Up to $6 billion has been given to Indonesia to counter the damage caused by the tsunami which destroyed much of their country in December, 2004. I wonder how much will actually be put to good use to help rebuild the towns and villages completely obliterated by the catastrophe. It remains to be seen but I’m not all that optomistic.

Greece, which has been a major recipient of EU funding, hosted a $10 billion party in the form of the Summer Olympics last year. Ask any Greek and he’ll tell you that the money would have been better spent on schools, health and the computerization of the Civil Service behomoth which sucks millions of dollars a year out of the country’s coffers. We didn’t need fancy new sports stadiums which, so far, are still empty and costing $85 million a year to maintain.

To prevent the misuse of financial aid, should we cut it off funding altogether? Personally, I don’t think this is the answer. If these countries get no money whatsoever, then we can never expect to stem the flow of refugees and immigrants from these countries. They need to be given hope for their future so they can remain in their own countries to rebuild them.

Rather than cut off funding altogether, I believe the answer is in method and monitoring of disbursements. The holes in the bucket must be plugged before more water is poured into it. That means that the governments must take active measures to pass and enforce laws to combat the rampant corruption, human rights violations and racism which plague so many developing countries.Only when there has been a marked improvement in these areas, then the issue of financial aid can be discussed.

The second step can begin. Instead of giving these countries lump sum amounts to spend as they see fit, the money should be given in installments and then closely monitored with regards to the application of the funds. If the money is spent wisely then more money can be disbursed.

The way to do this is by treating the recipient countries as businesses rather than charity cases. If a country wants $5 billion to restructure their country, then they must provide a sound and detailed business plan to the lending authority. If the plan is in order then the lender can approve the loan to be paid in installments as each project (building of a road/school/hospital etc.) is successfully completed. If, at any point during the completion of a project, it becomes delayed or is in danger of massive cost overruns, then the lending authority can take complete control of the project...even if that project happens to be the rebuilding of the government itself.

The third step is the constant monitoring of the allocation of all funds and projects by the lending authorities. It will take a lot of resources and manpower but I feel it’s the only way for developed nations to honour their moral, ethical and financial obligations to the people of the poorest nations. It is our obligations as taxpayers to demand accountability from the lending institutions to ensure our hard earned money is spent wisely.

Thursday, April 14, 2005 

When Reasons Become Excuses

Greeks blame the state of their economy on the 400 years of Turkish occupation which ended in 1821. Native North American Indians blame the disparity in their social and economic status on the invasion of white Europeans to their continent. African Americans blame their problems on the American government which allowed slavery to flourish and their sluggish pace to attempt to rectify the situation.

Even the female gender in almost all societies around the globe have been discriminated against up until the first quarter of the 20th century when most of them were given the right to vote...give or take a few countries. Even today, in the most modern and progressive western societies, there still exists a gender discrimination with regards to work and pay.

My own great-great grandfather was a colliery slave. Can I use that reason to justify the fact that I’m not a millionaire because of the discrimination he suffered then and because of the discrimination I’ve experienced as a woman? I don’t believe I can.

I’m sure the majority of the population can find someone else to blame for the problems they may face in life today.

Great injustices have been done to each and every one of our ancestors and in many cases, the discrimination is an ongoing issue. At which point does the reason become an excuse? Is there a specific amount of time they’re allowed a grace period before people must become responsible for their own problems in life?

People can’t ‘unright the wrongs’ within a day but there are many examples around us of individuals and societies as a whole, who have managed to turn their lives around within one generation. And because of those examples, I believe the same is possible for everyone. It’s amazing what a little determination, ambition, perseverance, education and personal responsibility can do.

Remembering the past can help us avoid repeating the same mistakes of our ancestors and can deepen our resolve not to permanently return to it. Too many people choose to live in the past thereby preventing their future from ever happening. It’s time to see the past through a window in our minds instead of the revolving door it’s become for many of us to escape through when the door of the present isn’t as wide as we want it to be.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005 

It's 2005. Do You Know If Your Kids Are Educated?

The success or failure of an individual person or an entire country has often been said to depend upon the quality of education its citizens receive. This is why many parents believe that their children must go to school, perform the best they can while there so they can graduate from high school and then choose from a plethora of uinversities and colleges. Once they've graduated from those institutions with their degrees, they can expect better jobs with higher salaries translating into a higher standard of living for them.

On paper, this scheme looks like a solid plan but in most societies, those extra little letters at the end of your name don't often equate to financial freedom and success anymore. Why?

I don't pretend to have all the answers to this question but I do believe some common sense solutions could go a long way towards ensuring a better education for our children.

Education is too important to be left solely to the educators.--Francis Keppel
Today, at least in the developed countries, not many people can complain of an illiterate population but they are complaining about the quality of education their children receive. It is my belief that parents are part of the problem. We hand over our children to schools and believe that is only up to the governments and teachers to educate our children. We have a direct responsibility to educate our own children. Just because I legally must send my child to school (in Greece, it's against the law to home school) doesn't mean I have to leave his entire education to a stranger in a government office. I can also teach him what I believe is important or what is not covered in the school curriculum. Even the best of teachers can't devote all of his attention to my son nor will he or she ever have as much interest in educating my son as I will.

Parents can't complain about a child's poor grades or performance in school if they don't even know the name of the teacher or in which classroom of a school their child attends. If a child doesn't believe his parents don't care about his performance in school, then chances are, he won't care either. Know your children's teachers. Know the curriculum your child is studying. It's just not enough to say a child is performing badly in school because he brings home poor marks therefore, the school has failed him.

It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.--Albert Einstein
In a public school system, all children are basically taught the same curriculum. So if your child has a natural inclination towards art or music, that inclination more or less stifled so that they can learn from a broad variety of subjects which may not be of any interest to them resulting in poor performance in those subjects or worse, complete withdrawal from public education altogether. I'm not saying that your child should only learn about what interests him but to recognize what DOES interest him and find a way to nurture that inclination for a particular field of study but at the same time ensure he gets a general knowledge on other subjects which don't. Most people have a higher probability to succeed in areas which interest them.

In large states public education will always be mediocre, for the same reason that in large kitchens the cooking is usually bad.--Friedrich Nietzsche
Most people think that the only way to educate children is to put them in an education factory...a school. Children can and have learned many things through a public school system but it's not the only system. It's one thing to look at a picture of a flower and have a textbook explain photosynthesis and quite another to grow a garden of flowers yourself. Everyday life is full of opportunities to educate children and we should capitalise on that fact. The next time we go grocery shopping, take the time to explain to a child why you buy meat, vegetables, fruit and bread and not just ice cream. When you take your pet to the vet for a checkup, let the child ask questions about his pet's health. If you have to change the battery in your car, allow your child to watch and from his questions, you just might be able to explain to him a brief synopsis of how a car actually works. When my son became addicted to the movie "Pirates of the Caribbean", it was a great opportunity for me to teach him about 400 years of naval history in about 3 hours by using the internet coupled with my own knowledge of the period. He was enthralled. Just answering a child's questions is often a great way to teach him.

Apply yourself. Get all the education you can, but then, by God, do something. Don't just stand there, make it happen.--Lee Iacocca
An education alone doesn't guarantee success in life. Once you believe you've gotten a solid education, don't expect people to come knocking at your door with a job, research grant or a commendation on a silver platter. You've got to actually do something with it. Children must learn from an early age that education alone is not the key to success. Education provides a foundation on which to build success. Personal determination and ambition must be factored into the equation before the sum total can equate to your definition of success...whether it's financial security, creative brilliance, innovative excellence or a decent human being.