Tue, Feb 13, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Ensuring the wise use of foreign aid

Taiwan's diplomatic isolation can be compared to the plight of an amiable, lonely person who wants to make friends but cannot. Due to pressure from China, many countries dare not befriend Taiwan. The international community was surprised when Taiwan announced a US$300 million aid package to Kosovo refugees in Macedonia a few years back, but the ensuing political pressure made it difficult to actually get the aid to Macedonia. More recently, India was reluctant to accept Taiwan's aid in the wake of its catastrophic earthquake. Taiwan owes its growth to foreign aid, and the country now has the will and wherewithal to repay the international community's kindness. But diplomatic pressure has kept Taiwan's foreign aid budget at under 0.11 percent of GNP -- far lower than the 0.23 percent that is the average among members of the Organization for Economic Community Development's Development Assistance Committee.

The diplomatic race across the Taiwan Strait has infused political and diplomatic considerations into Taiwan's foreign aid programs. Some of these programs have inevitably become blatant exchanges of favors, causing endless controversies and earning the country a reputation for "sugar daddy diplomacy" -- even though China spends far more on money diplomacy than Taiwan does. Some foreign aid programs have also been criticized for benefitting specific politicians or political parties in the recipient countries. As a result, Taiwan faces the prospect of having its diplomatic ties severed once a transition of power occurs in an ally. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) also ran into embarrassing protests against money diplomacy in Nicaragua during his visit there last August.

To make Taiwan's foreign aid programs transparent and professional, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has drafted the International Cooperation and Development Bill (國際合作發展法), which is currently being reviewed by the Executive Yuan. It is hoped that this bill will go a long way towards resolving four key problems that beset Taiwan's aid projects.

These are, one, that the decision-making power is in the hands of a small number of people. For example, the Kosovo aid program was run by the National Security Council under the Presidential Office. Even the foreign ministry did not have prior knowledge of the program -- much less the public. Two, decisions on the scale and focus of the aid -- as well as the amount of money involved -- are often made by a handful of people, without going through expert evaluation. The results of the programs are seldom objectively evaluated. Some projects can perhaps be compared to throwing a stone into a lake in pitch blackness. Three, Taiwan's foreign aid mechanism includes the ministries of foreign affairs, economic affairs and finance and the Council of Agriculture. A lack of coordination between these agencies has created serious overlaps and undercut efficiency. Fourth, rigid laws have made foreign aid programs strictly a matter for the government, causing the country to lose many precious opportunities for humanitarian aid and diplomatic cooperation. Taiwan's rapidly growing NGOs have proven to be far more flexible in extending their tentacles around the world. They also face far fewer obstacles in the international arena.

The new bill will be a pivotal law for the nation's foreign aid policies. We also hope international cooperation will be preceded by cooperation in the domestic arena. Diplomacy is not the business of one person or one political party. The International Cooperation and Development Committee should adopt a cross-party modus operandi that will allow all political parties to participate in debate and decision-making on foreign aid projects. With all operations under the scrutiny of political parties and elected bodies, we may be able to avoid a repeat of the unhappy partisan controversies that have dogged many of Taiwan's foreign aid programs.

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