Monday, December 24, 2007

Good People

Dear Colleagues

One of the sad realities is that good people are in the majority ... but have rather little of the decision making power that drives society.

This is not new. It probably has been this way for ever.

But some of these good people over the years have worked very hard, and at considerable risk, to make the world a better place, with more justice, equity and fairness.

Good people are still doing this.

But good people are also held hostage to impossible choices. In rich societies good people are employed in organizations where rather questionable business practices produce profit, and with this profit, the person gets to keep his or her job ... otherwise out, and someone else will do the work and get the pay. In poor societies, perhaps, the situation is worse. A child is starving or very ill and dying for want of some food or some medicine ... what is a parent to do? Stealing is wrong ... but a child dying is wrong as well ... good people faced with a choice like this will probably choose to keep the child alive by doing something that is wrong. Impossible choices.

The fact that society has landed up with so many good people faced with bad choices reflects on the leadership of society ... not just now, but over a good number of years, decades and generations.

In fact this is a conversation that we know has been going on since the time of the ancient Greeks ... and over the centuries thoughtful people have bumped into leadership that was very much invested in the status quo ... and have been treated badly because of it, including prison and including death.

So this is not new ... and the stakes are no smaller now than they have been in the past. In fact, arguably, it is more important now than at any time in history for the available technological power to be used for societal good rather than for other purposes. Modern technology may be used to constrain good people and their legitimate aspirations ... or grudgingly allowed to benefit society at large ... or used to its full potential for socio-economic progress. These are choices ... and in the past few decades there has not been much of technology use to optimize socio-economic progress, rather it has been to optimize corporate and private wealth at the expense of society as a whole.

My hope is that the capacity to communicate and to have global dialog will result in a better outcome in this century than at any time in the past. Good people exist around the world and in cooperation, the goals of good people should be able to win out over the hedonistic greed and grandiosity of those that believe that they deserve all that they can get.

I am an optimist. I hope it is not misplaced.


Peter Burgess
The Tr-Ac-Net Organization

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bottom Up

Dear Colleagues

The idea of "bottom up" rather than "top down" has been talked about in development circles since the 1970s ... but rather little has ever been done to change the modus operandi of the major development funders so that "bottom up" could ever become a reality.

The World Bank, the UN, Governments, bilateral development agencies may talk about "bottom up" but their structure and their procedures are totally "top down". By their very nature, and the mandates they operate under, these organizations can never really and trully embrace the concept of "bottom up".

However, the corporate world has made use of the "bottom up" idea in its search for productivity, and has embraced the idea of devolution. In terms of operational performance, this application of "bottom up" works well. Of course, strategic decisions still get made at the "top", and devolution is only used for some, but by no means all. of the activities.

The hero of American society ... the entrepreneur ... is also an example of what "bottom up" accomplishes. The typical entrepreneur starts at the bottom, and is the bottom. There is no top. But working at the bottom, a successful entrepreneur is able to grow and put more "bottom" underneath and become a regular organization.

In the field of development, a community centric approach has the key elements of "bottom up". If the priority needs of the community are used to define what gets done first, the performance of development is likely to improve by an order of magnitude. This is almost for sure. In my 30 plus years of being involved with development, it has been rare to see development resources applied to the most useful work, but rather to some activity that was "politically correct" but essentially useless. Instead of development being something that we should all be proud of, development is an embarrasment. So much spent for so little result.

With today's technology it is becoming more and more practical to mobilize the data that are needed to have a "bottom up" development environment. While Tr-Ac-Net has not yet deployed all the elements that are needed, it has moved a long way in that direction, and it will not be much longer before all the pieces are in place.


Peter B in New York


Dear Colleagues

Transparency is a part of the Tr-Ac-Net agenda. Over the past two decades there has been a lot of dialog about transparency ... but the practice of transparency has been in decline. In reality, there are many experts who are well prepared to discuss transparency, but few who are able to implement transparency.

Within a typical organization, the flow of information into the public arena is very much controlled, and the information that can be seen by the public is only the bit that the organization wants to be seen.

There are few laws or regulations that are effective in making an organization operate in a transparent manner, even though there is a voluminous and complex set of laws that impact almost anything done in modern society.

While there are rules in most jurisdictions that require certain information to be filed and be in the public record, this information is usually insufficient to the informative. Accordingly, the public perception of an organization's performance is usually determined by a small amount of financial information and a large amount of information that reflects simply what the organization wants the public to know ... rather than what the public really ought to know.

Laws that are meant to help the public get access to information in government are easy to render ineffective. The idea that a government agency under the Freedom of Information Act can give the public hundreds of pages of boilerplate text, together with one or two pages with contract financial numbers fully blacked out is preposterous ... but it is the practice ... and apparently it is lawful.

Because there is no effective transparency ... the financial behavior of many organizations in which the public should have trust is severely compomised. There is a serious disconnect between the funds raised for a lot of good causes and the amount of money that is deployed on the ground as assistance ... where does the money go? The South East Asia tsunami disaster in December 2005 got the world's attention and a lot of money was contributed to mitigate the impact of the disaster ... but the amounts deployed do not seem to be anything like the amounts contributed. Where is the money? The Katrina disaster on the US Gulf Coast triggered huge fund flows, but there is little transparency about these fund flows. What happened to the money?

Transparency is difficult for an organization when its accounting is inadequate. This is a widespread problem. There are legitimate pieces of information that should reasonable be hidden from public view ... but anything that has a significant impact on society should reasonably be subject to public scrutiny. Being profitable is a reasonable organizational objective, but maximizing profit by devaluing the commons is not reasonable ... and the role of transparency is, as much as anything, to make sure that this does not take place.


Peter Burgess
for Tr-Ac-Net


Dear Colleagues

A big part of the Tr-Ac-Net agenda is to get accounting sorted out so that it does what it needs to do.

Accounting is not meant to be a system that enables the corporate world, and indeed any organization, including government, to hide behind a set of numbers that are legally right but make no sense and certainly do not portray a "true and fair" view of the financial situation of the organization.

At their core, economics, and accounting are quite simple subjects. But modern law now makes a mockery of accounting principles ... and complex legal constructs aim to defeat the basic gravity of economics. Many will argue that it works, and that there has been the longest period of economic progress in the United States in history over the past two decades. This is a myth and it will be debunked in due course.

I will argue that there has been incompetent accounting in recent times, and corporate leadership that has embraced legal smoke and mirrors accounting with open arms. As someone who became a Chartered Accountant in the UK in 1965, I am appalled at the failure of the accountancy profession around the world to demand better of its members ... but as one of the senior people in the accountancy world told me almost 20 years ago ... accountancy is no longer a profession, it is a business.

One of the changes that is needed in the accountancy world is a change in focus from satisfying the private needs of an organization to satisfying the the broader needs of the society. The title of Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is misleading, because the CPA has little or no role in ensuring that the public is correctly informed about the financial situation and performance of an organization ... merely to report privately according to legal rules.

When the question: "Accountability to whom?" is asked ... there is nothing that requires that it is the "public" that gets the information. The nearest that the public gets is when a member of the public becomes a stockholder in a public company, at which point this stockholder is entitled to a set of information. But the public as a whole is never entitled to much of anything from the world's major economic entities ... and any potential for disaster is efficiently hidden.

There is a lot of work to do to get accounting so that it does the work that needs to be done. Fortunately modern technology can be an enormous help.


Peter Burgess

Sub Prime

Around August 2007, the US housing bubble started to deflate, and the financial sector started to get concerned about the rising number of house mortgages going that were delinquent and moving towards foreclosure. Nobody in the banking sector leadership seemed very much concerned about the impact on the clients ... but there was rapidly escalating concern over the impact that these delinquencies were having on the value of the bank's assets ... and profits ... and stock valuations.

As September ... and October ... and November passed, the sub-prime crisis got worse and worse and worse. The Federal Reserve dropped interest rates ... not once, but twice, and still the financial crisis seemed to deepen.

And then in December the Federal Reserve, together with several of the other major Central Banks initiated a new cooperative program to create new liquidity for the global banking system.

While this is creative ... and might serve to provide liquidity in the banking system, it is in reality just another piece of creative financing that has little or no substance. More than anything else, what it does is to create a sub-prime financing vehicle for the commercial banks themselves.

Few people, including some well educated economists and business majors, have any appreciation how far the major currencies (specifically the US$ and European Euro) have deteriorated since the rigorous days of the "gold standard". Up to now the populace has been able to carry on with the assumption that easy credit is the norm and there will never need to be an accounting. This easy life is now in danger, and it is far from clear what the end game is going to be. A lot is at stake ... and it looks very much as if the options are now very limited. Real property will revert to a more reasonable price level ... but financial assets, including derivatives and the like could well end up being worthless. A serious mess may well be in the making. It has happened before, and it can happen again.

Have I got this all wrong? I hope so, but what I know of economic history suggests that I am right.


Peter Burgess

Monday, December 17, 2007


Dear Colleagues

Transparency is sadly lacking in modern economic life ... though there is the appearance of information sharing, modern economic entities make only a very limited amount of information available for external use and scrutiny.

Transparency was popularized in the international arena when Transparency International was formed ... and the good news was that the word transparency became the subject of conferences, workshops and the like, but the bad news was that the talk was not matched by very much change in the way in which organizations operated.

One of the ongoing concerns is that the lack of transparency is not limited to just the corporate enterprise, or just a particular government, or just an institution like the World Bank, or the IMF or the UN ... but is a universal problem that is also common in the NGO community. Few organizations want to let others see very much at all about what they are doing. In the main organizations only make information available that they are required to by law, or which they consider to be useful for their public relations and promotion.

The consequences of this are significant. For instance: the public has no role in helping to hold economic organizations to account for the impact that organizations are having in any specific community. This can make a very big difference in the socio-economic situation in a community, and it is an aberation that a major economic actor in a community can effectively do whatever without very much accountability to the community. For instance: organizations are able to report very limited financial information, while at the same time publishing a lot of information about very little to give the impression of lots of worthwhile activity. This works well and helps with fund raising ... but it does not do anything to help get good allocation of resources and cost effective socio-economic progress.

There are emerging ways for the issue of transparency to be addressed so that the public can know much more of what it is reasonable the public should know. Small steps are being made, and the power of Internet knowledge is more and more coming into play. Tr-Ac-Net is playing a part in this, and will do more as time progresses.

Stay tuned

Peter Burgess

Friday, December 14, 2007

Cost effective anti-malaria interventions

Dear Colleagues

Over the past five years there has been a major increase in the fund flows related to anti-malaria interventions. It is expected that in 2008, there will be more than $1 billion disbursed related to malaria work.

But it is interesting to note that the easy sound bite about child death ... "A child dies in Africa because of malaria every 30 seconds" ... or "some 3,000 children under 5 years of age die in Africa every day" remain the same now as they were two and three years ago. Is this lazyness on the part of the PR people ... or is this because the impact of the funding is insignificant.

With so much funding, it is reasonable to expect that there will be some cost accounting and performance analysis. President Bush made it clear that this was going to be a characteristic of the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI) and everyone talks about the importance of performance metrics. But in reality, the presently available performance metrics are simplistic and merely confirm that certain activities have been carried out ... which is a start ... but there is little about how effective these activities are in addressing the burden of malaria.

What is the goal? To reduce the burden of malaria in the society.

What is the burden of malaria? There are many elements of which the following are important. How much cost does this have?
1... High mortality among young children
2... High mortality among pregnant women
3... Mortality among all other groups in the population
4... Morbidity among all groups in the population ... which has a big economic impact when working age adults are incapacitated
5... Lost working time due to malaria
6... Cost of anti-malaria interventions
...1... Medical care
...2... Personal protection (coils, sprays, etc)
...3... Personal protection (bednets)
...4... Interior residual spraying (IRS)
...5... Source control ... larvaciding
...6... Adult mosquito control ... ULV adulticiding

What are the key metrics that show progress and relate progress to the costs of the associated anti-malaria activities?
1... Reduction in mortality among young children
2... Reduction in mortality among pregnant women
3... Reduction in mortality among all other groups in the population

4... Reduction in morbidity among all groups in the population
5... Reduction in lost working time due to malaria

6... Reduction in the cost of needed anti-malaria interventions
...1... Medical care
...2... Personal protection (coils, sprays, etc)
...3... Personal protection (bednets)
...4... Interior residual spraying (IRS)
...5... Source control ... larvaciding
...6... Adult mosquito control ... ULV adulticiding

7... Reduction in the prevalence of malaria parasite in the human host
8... Reduction in the prevalence of malaria parasite in the mosquito population
9... No emergence of resistance in any of the anti-malaria interventions
10.. No environmental damage
11.. No negative side effects for the human population

What is the cost? What is the optimum cost? How to get the least cost and the most benefit for anti-malaria interventions
...1... Medical care
...2... Personal protection (coils, sprays, etc)
...3... Personal protection (bednets)
...4... Interior residual spraying (IRS)
...5... Source control ... larvaciding
...6... Adult mosquito control ... ULV adulticiding
...7... Cost of data collection, data logistics, data analysis and administration

The metrics described here are a lot more substantive than anything that seems to be available at the present time in the malaria sub-sector ... though there will be around $1 billion disbursed in 2008 to address the malaria component of African health.

The international relief and development sector does not have a good track record on financial control, cost accounting and related matters. The good news is that there is some discussion of the need for performance metrics. The bad news is that what currently goes for performance metrics is very limited in quality and comprehensiveness.

With limited performance metrics ... performance is compromised. The cost is huge. Good management information is possible. Good management information is used in the corporate sector, but good management information is almost entirely absent in the public sector, and especially in the international relief and development sector. This is obscene, and serves only those that want to rip off the system or are engaged in activities that have little or no value.

Your comments are welcome.

Peter Burgess

About the Cost and Value of Conferences

Dear Colleagues

I would like to know a lot more about the cost and value of conferences. I just got the following invitation:
> Just thought I'd let you know that after the fantastic success of the
> Anti-corruption Summit in Amsterdam, Ethical Corporation have developed
> another unique and compelling agenda for the Global Anti-corruption,
> Compliance and Ethics Conference to be held in Chicago the 16-17 of April
> 2008.

But I wonder what "fantastic success" really means. I have asked the conference organizers about this, and it will be interesting to see the reply. I wrote as follows:

I am curious how you have come to the conclusion that the Anti-Corruption Summit in Amsterdam was a success, let along a fantastic success.

Our group is working on the cost effectiveness of critical activities in our global society, with a focus on the rather poor performance of the international relief and development sector.

Clearly, the issue of curruption is a subject that needs to be addressed ... just as there are issues in health, education, trade, workplace rules, and a whole lot more.

A powerful tool in all of this is understanding the value chain and the fund flows ... but this is rarely visible. The UN and a growing number of corporate organizations are running conferences, workshops, seminars, training courses ... and it is clear that they are profitable otherwise they would have stopped growing long ago ... but are they valuable?

The first set below shows what seems to be driving conferences:
Funds raised ---> funds used ---> conference held
Funds raised exceed funds used

This is what ought to be going on:
Funds raised ---> funds used ---> conference held ---> valuable change achieved
Valuable change exceeds funds raised or funds used.

Are there any organizations that talk about the valuable change achieved? The UN might argue that their conferences put the UN's work into the media spotlight ... but in all honesty, what tangible good does that do?

I would be interested in your take on this

I see an urgent need for economic and financial analysis to include the value dimension. Economic activity that produces profit for stockholders at the expense of the commons must, it seems to me, be brought under control. And where society needs investment in the commons, as in the relief and development sector, I would argue that there needs to be a much larger interest in the value of the activities that are funded, not only how much they cost.

It will be interesting to see whether there is a substantive response to my question.

Peter Burgess

Monday, December 10, 2007

Accounting and accountability

Dear Colleagues

Hardly a day goes by without some new revelation about failed accounting and an inability to track resources. There is a disturbing pattern in the reports and the stories carried in the media. The problems are not being found in a timely way. Rather they are coming to light a long time after the accounting failed and the ability to track resources was lost.

One almost has to ask "Why bother?" with the investigation into lost resources when months and years have already past. It is usually way too late to recover the lost items, and arguably too late to hold the responsible parties to account. Which, of course, is probably why the investigations are delayed in the first place.

I don't hear any outcry from the accountancy profession about this epidemic of failed accounting ... nothing from the big name accounting firms ... and hardly a wimper from any quarter. I am amazed, and frankly, absolutely disgusted.

Clearly there is a need for some more rigorous oversight mechanism that reflects either a more appropriate use of modern technology or reverts to a better use of very old fashioned techniques that used to serve quite well. The status quo is unacceptable and needs to change.


Peter Burgess

Friday, December 7, 2007

Progress towards Millennium Development Goals

Dear Colleagues

In some cases there has been very good progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and in some cases not very much at all.

My own take on the MDGs is that they are more public relations than they are substance. They are typical of the modern era of established governance methodologies ... big on what is going to be done, but rather little to ensure that what is actually needed gets done.

In the year 2000, the UN makes committments to do big things by 2015. WOW! But who in the UN system is going to be around in fifteen years to explain anything. After five years a high profile and costly set of consultants reported on progress to date, and in simple terms, reported that progress was generally not very good at all. Progress in places like China and India with huge populations made the progress look better than it might have otherwise ... but in most places the relief and development sector and its leadership had made little or no progress. At the five year mark, the big recommendation was that issues like poverty could be addressed effectively by massive increases in the funding for the relief and development sector.

I respectfully disagree. There are two things that are needed. One is to make use of available resources in the best possible way. There needs to be very much improved accounting for resources, and especially there needs to be metrics about cost effectiveness. If the available money was used in the best possible way ... that is in the most cost effective way ... progress could be significantly accelerated.

When resources are being used well, then it is time to ask for more resources. At the moment the organizations involved in the relief and development sector either do not know much about the activities that are being funded and the results being achieved, or they are totally unwilling to share this information in a way that is useful.

Money is not the only resource that needs to be accounted for. There is also the human resource component. As things stand at the moment the human resource component is for all practical purposes ignored, and, not surprisingly, progress is not sustained. Imagine how much more could be done if local people were effectively mobilized as a resource for progress.

I see a lot wrong with the present system of relief and development assistance, but I do not see analysis of this. Instead I see a lot of thinking about how more money can be mobilized for something that really does not work.


Peter Burgess
The Tr-Ac-Net Organization

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The new aid giants (7)

I thought Molly Tumusiime's message deserved a careful answer. This is my effort to answer the various points that she raised. MT indicates Molly Tumusiime's words ... PB is my response.

"Dear Colleagues

Most of the time, the feedback I get from Africa is relatively positive, and my colleagues in North America, Europe, etc are a little uncomfortable. This time Molly Tumusiime (MT) from Uganda is challenging me, and I owe her a decent response.

MT said: "I agree with the foregone concerns about accountability and transparency, they a good theoretical analogues that sometimes mask us from looking at real issues. Please don't take me wrong I love it if all factors are constant."

PB response: OK ... no disagreement up to this point

MT said: "Africa in particular has had a share of blame and counter blame over corruption and embezzlement of funds because the world does not see the continent look like the first world, but I always wonder if people try to weigh the magnitude of Africa's needs against the aid that is put in? "

PB response: There are two important issues here.

1 .... corruption and embezzlement is a serious source of poor performance in the relief and development context in Africa, but I would make the case that there is too much of this behavior everywhere in the world. The "buying" of favors in both the political world and in the business world is a global epidemic, and thought there is TALK about transparency and accountability to address the problem, the WALK is almost entirely missing EVERYWHERE. Accountability to the public is not something the establishment wants at all.

2 .... what exactly is Africa's need for aid? I have done my fair share of development planning in various parts of Africa and it is abundantly clear that there are huge resources in Africa, both natural and human ... and an absolutely ridiculous process of exploiting these resources so that Africa gets almost nothing from them. So then we find that ordinary Africans are poor, the governments are almost bankrupt and there is a huge need to get aid. The problem is that there is a very strong system in place that impoverishes ordinary Africans while others get wealthy. It is not a just arrangement ... and it needs work.

MT said: "Does the world ever sit to analyze and see how much ,even of that trillion my colleague is talking about below goes back to its owners in terms of technical assistance, posh cars, expensive hotels they sleep in while in Africa, boosting economies at hope by supporting the buying of things made in their countries, to the extent that when the technocrats go back home the cost of maintaining such things is a burden and subsequent waste."

PB's response: There have been a good number of books on this subject written over the past 20 years or so going back to Hansen's "Lord's of Poverty" in the 1980s. I have been outspoken on this issue for as long as I can remember ... I wrote some very critical material as long ago as 1979 on relief and development performance ... about a lot of overhead and not much results. My consulting career with the World Bank and the UN ended abruptly when I started following the money and asking about real results as opposed to merely real disbursements and costs.

PB more: I did some academic economics in the Keynesian model as a student, and I am disgusted at the World Bank and IMF thinking about how economics works in the African context. In my view, they have it about as wrong as they can. As I see it, Africa is a (real) market economy in the main, and NOT a monetary economy.

MT said: "May I suggest that Peter Burgess takes time off to scan through the moralistic side of Africa's aid before he fights how Africa should not get aid."

PB's response: I never suggested that Africa should not get more aid ... merely that it is more important for aid that is available and flowing to be used in Africa for work that benefits Africans and not to support the huge and growing overhead of the international relief and development system, and all the support organizations that are in a boom as donor disbursements expand.

PB more: The performance metric I want to see is community progress ... real people getting real value ... with modest amounts of external aid. When you look at how many people need aid, the number is huge and the aggregate anount of assistance needed is very large indeed. But more money merely for aid overhead is not my idea of a sensible strategy.

MT said: Let him conduct his research about the two questions he has raised (Meanwhile, there is little or no questioning of why it is that the previous $3 trillion (an imprecise number) has done so little, and how it is that these funds were ineffective.)

PB response: I think MT and I are not too far apart on our analysis of the situation. If anything, I might be even more aggressive for change. It is to be expected that we will differ on the detail ... but I don't think we are far apart on the basics.

MT said: I shall be interested to read his findings.

PB response: I hope this is sufficiently responsive.


Peter Burgess
Peter Burgess
The Transparency and Accountability Network: Tr-Ac-Net in New York
IMMC - The Integrated Malaria Management Consortium Inc.
917 432 1191 or 212 772 6918

The new aid giants (6)

But not everyone was of the same view. People sometimes think that my talk about focus on using money the right way means that I am against fund flows for assistance. Far from it ... I just want to see fund flows doing some good rather than merely being used to support an industry that now has high overhead and not much to show for it.

Molly Tumusiime, on Dec 4, 2007 sent the following message:

"Dear All,

"I agree with the foregone concerns about accountability and transparency, they are a good theoretical analogues that sometimes mask us from looking at real issues. Please don't take me wrong I love it if all factors are constant. Africa in particular has had a share of blame and counter blame over corruption and embezzlement of funds because the world does not see the continent look like the first world, but I always wonder if people try to weigh the magnitude of Africa's needs against the aid that is put in? Does the world ever sit to analyze and see how much ,even of that trillion my colleague is talking about below goes back to its owners in terms of technical assistance, posh cars, expensive hotels they sleep in while in Africa, boosting economies at hope by supporting the buying of things made in their countries, to the extent that when the technocrats go back home the cost of maintaining such things is a burden and subsequent waste. May I suggest that Peter Burgess takes time off to scan through the moralistic side of Africa's aid before he fights how Africa should not get aid. Let him conduct his research about the two questions he has raised (Meanwhile, there is little or no questioning of why it is that the previous $3 trillion (an imprecise number) has done so little, and how it is that these funds were ineffective.)I shall be interested to read his findings.

"Molly Tumusiime

The new aid giants (5)

And someone else does not think the aid industry is doing a very good job

Dear Peter,

I agree, billions spent and nothing accomplished. People waste the money and people keep dying. When will it end? When something changes? LOL

Craig Audiss

The new aid giants (4)

And George Kent replied

Friends, I greatly appreciate Peter Burgess's reactions to my comments about the need for good planning, especially at the global level. I think we agree about fundamentals, but maybe not. Let's explore this further.

Peter said that global planning and state planning do not work very well. I agree that most past experience confirms that. I would say that bad planning needs to be replaced with good planning. I think it is more useful to say it this way than to say that planning as such is bad. We should not say or suggest that there should be no planning.

Peter said that in his experience:

"a good plan was far less important than a team of good implementers with good motives. Good implementers actually plan on the fly and improve even the best of plans. In fact, truth be told, most plans are a terrible sub-optimization of what is possible because there are few planners that know very much beyond planning methodologies."

There is always a need to plan some sort of framework in which "good implementers" can do their work. For example, if we want to sharply reduce the incidence of malaria worldwide, there is a need to create a suitable context in which "good implementers" can do their thing. Planning should not be equated with top-down directive planning. That is just one type of planning, often a bad type. Maybe we can find a different term to label the good approach. It cannot be described simply as no planning.

Peter emphasizes what he calls "community centric sustainable development." I used to write about this in terms of community-based planning. However, I came to appreciate that it would be a mistake to simply replace overly centralized planning with overly localized planning. Instead we need what I now call multi-level, multi-party planning. Centralized and localized planning both have important things to contribute, both have important advantages, and both have important liabilities. We need to figure out how to draw on the best features of both. Part of the role of the central planning effort is to find ways to facilitate the best possible localized planning.

One of the fundamental operating principles should be subsidiarity. This means that in general, issues should be handled locally to the extent feasible. However, there are some issues that absolutely require some sort of global planning efforts. Global warming is one example. Hunger in the world is another. This is the basis of a book I edited on Global Obligations for the Right to Food that is due out in early 2008. We need to acknowledge that while a child may be born into a poor country, that child is not born into a poor world. We all have some measure of responsibility for that child. We have not taken that responsibility seriously.

In the Millennium Development Project, for example, we are not witnessing the failure of a strategy, but the complete absence of a serious strategy at the global level. I hope this absence is not what Peter is advocating.

I support Peter's concluding paragraph:

There is hope when development is done right and planning is used to get development going in the right direction ... planning that is not a control mechanism but a guide. Control comes from accounting and accountability ... and the community are the judges of what is delivering value.

Community-centric development is good, but we should not exaggerate its potentials. Too often, those who advocate the decentralization of authority are really just finding ways to maintain inequities.

Perhaps we can all work together to write out the principles of sound planning at every level? I don't think we should be--or appear to be-- advocates of not planning.

Aloha, George

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The new aid giants (3)

On Nov 19, 2007 George Kent responded to my message

"Big money has the potential of being useful, but success is not likely if the resources are not accompanied by appropriate planning efforts. It is very difficult to find any serious planning at the global level for dealing with these big issues. Who will do the planning? To whom will the planners be accountable?
Aloha, George"

The following is my long winded reply which makes the point that planning needs to take into account what happens at the community level. The message included from Kris Dev gives an example of a local school planning something they wanted ... something that would probably not have been on the agenda if planned from any central agency.

Dear Colleagues

George Kent's message asked about who will do the planning and to whom will the planners be accountable. A very important question. Big money has the potential of being useful, but success is not likely if the resources are not accompanied by appropriate planning efforts. It is very difficult to find any serious planning at the global level for dealing with these big issues. Who will do the planning? To whom will the planners be accountable?

My position is that global planning ... State planning (Gosplan) and the like do not work very well. Years ago (nearly 50) I studied the French approach to planning, and was impressed by how in the planning process, they framed the goals, and then left it up to society to do everything that was needed unless it was clearly counterproductive. This contrasted with the British socialist planning of the time that constrained rather than guided.

I guess I have been in the planning business all my career ... corporate and development. The most effective plans were the ones I did not make. We used to refer to this as the NIH factor ... Not Invented Here. So while I was "in charge of" planning, my best plans were always made by other people, other departments.

I also learned that a good plan was far less important than a team of good implementers with good motives. Good implementers actually plan on the fly and improve even the best of plans. In fact, truth be told, most plans are a terrible sub-optimization of what is possible because there are few planners that know very much beyond planning methodologies.

My value as a planner was that I could stop really bad things happening ... not that I could make great things happen. And the possibilities to do great things are everywhere, and one has to wonder why it is that we have planned our way into such a poor performing planet.

In the relief and development sector, my friends have pushed me in the direction of community centric sustainable development were the human resources and the natural resources of a community are combined to do the best possible activities for the benefit of the community ... with the support of an external world, and without doing damage to the external world. The community is the natural locus for performance metrics about development progress ... and in the community there is easy accounting and clarity about accountability.

This is not just talk about "bottom up" but truly walking "bottom up". My expectation is that bottom up community centric sustainable development will easily outperform the top down UN/World Bank development model ten fold.

The message below forwarded to me by Kris Dev from Chenai in Tamil Nadu, India is an example of CCSD in practice.

My favorite UN funded project was in Shenge, Sierra Loene some years back where the expatriate project leaders had the community drive the project with amazing results.

There is hope when development is done right and planning is used to get development going in the right direction ... planning that is not a control mechanism but a guide. Control comes from accounting and accountability ... and the community are the judges of what is delivering value.

I hope this answers the questions raised by George.


Peter Burgess

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Kris Dev
Date: Nov 19, 2007 7:49 AM
Subject: Fwd: Community Awakening Tsunami strikes Amithanallur Village, Ellapuram Block, Tiruvallur District, TN

Amithanallur Village in Ellapuram Block of Thiruvallur District, Tamil Nadu is struck by a new Tsunami - the "Community Awakening Tsunami". The village is poised for a big change - It is waking up from its slumber. The sleepy community is now turning vibrant thanks to the initiatives of the community themselves led by their leader Mr. G. Karunanidhi, Panchayat President and the initiatives of Social Activists and NGOs.

In the Grama Sabha meeting held on Gandhi Jayanthi day (October 2, 2007), it was resolved to set up a Community College christened as "Amithanallur Community College (ACC)" by the community, of the community and for the community. A Self Help Group (SHG) was set up to administer the affairs of the College in a meeting held by the community on November 18, 2007 (a few photos attached).

Mr. G. Kannan, Panchayat President of Amithanallur, a local resident of the village (son of a freedom fighter and Village Head of Amithanallur for fifteen years,after independence), is truly following his father's foot steps and the driving force behind the community college. He was proud to present us his development activities for the community and the women of the community were all praise for him.

Panchayat Presidents of three other neighbouring villages viz. Thirunilai, Akkrampakkm and Madura vaasal are members of the SHG. They were supported right from the beginning by Mr. K. Rangaiyan, Retired Block Development Officer of Ellapuram Block, Mr. Pal Arasu, a Gandhian worker from Kanniya Kumari District with more than 40 years of dedicated community service and Mr. H. Ramalingam, President and Mr. Purushothaman, Secretary, and members of GCT78, (alumni of Govt. College of Technology, Coimbatore 1978 Batch), a not for profit NGO set up for Benchmarking Engineering Services in Social Sector.

Mr. Kris Dev, ICT & e-Gov Consultant, Life Line to Community / Business offered to extend development support to the Community College, to set up Village Knowledge Centre.

The community college will cater to all the people in the Ellapuram block of Thiruvallur District, consisting of 53 Village panchayats and Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas (PURA), the project anounced by Dr. Manmohan Singh, Honourable Prime Minister, in his speech on 15th August, 2003 on the concept promoted by Dr. Abdul Kalam, Honourable President of India, to bridge the rural-urban divide and achieving balanced socio-economic development.

Anbarasi, K, a married woman with a child, who has passed the 12th standard, came forward, to become the first Principal of the College. She is determined to pursue her higher studies and obtain a doctorate degree and lead by example. Her husband. Sankar, D., who has studied up to 5th standard and working in a factory as a loader, is also determined to take up vocational course as part time student.

One of the first few enrollments, was Aravind Nehru, a sixth standard student, who desires to become a Collector. Another was Ganapathy Govindarajan, a 11th standard student who wants to become a doctor, as the village has no doctor. The community volunteered to extend support to deserving students.

The Community College passed the resolution to conduct various informal courses to empower the community members in their chosen field of specialization. Informal certificates named "Kanavu Pura (Dream Bird)", "Vellai Pura (Peace Bird)" and "Seyal Pura (Action Bird)" would be given to deserving citizens in the next Gram Sabha on
26th Jan 2008.

Amithanallur Community College, a transparent community initiative, through its Grama Sabha, would truly empower the marginalized rural poor and deserves support from all including central Government, State Government, National and International NGOs, NRI Community, Educationists and Educational institutions, corporates as a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

For more details contact:
1. Mr. G. Karunanidhi, Panchayat President, Amithanallur Village, Ellapuram Block, Tiruvallur District, TN at 91 99 526 72829.
2. Mr. Purushothaman, Secretary, GCT78, ( at 91 94 443 85195 /
3. Kris Dev, ICT & e-Gov Consultant, Life Line to Community / Business ( at 91 98 408 52132

Peter Burgess
The Transparency and Accountability Network: Tr-Ac-Net in New York
IMMC - The Integrated Malaria Management Consortium Inc.

The new aid giants (2)

Dear Colleagues

On November 15, I posted the following message ... it speaks for itself.

Peter Burgess

Dear Colleagues

A little more than two years ago I heard Jeffrey Sachs speaking at the Forum on Africa at SIPA, Columbia University. Around the same time Tony Blair was talking about more money for Africa ... and Bono was popularizing more money for Africa.

Meanwhile, there is little or no questioning of why it is that the previous $3 trillion (an imprecise number) has done so little, and how it is that these funds were ineffective.

I have tried to challenge the aid establishment to figure out how to use the available money 10 times as effectively ... as a first step ... and then to ask for more money when it is clear that the money is being used effectively. But of course, this is not going to happen. The aid establishment is quite happy with the status quo, and would be a lot more happy if the fund flows into the situation were to expand significantly.

Bottom line ... the aid establishment is doing everything it can be get more money flowing into the sector ... and the issues of transparency and accountability ... and performance metrics are off the table.

Some of us do not like this ... and we are going to win.


Peter Burgess.

The new aid giants

Dear Colleagues

The following message was the start of an interesting dialog on several list serves including afro-nets. In future messages it will become apparent the extent that Tr-Ac-Net does not share these conclusions.

Peter Burgess
NAIROBI, 12 November (IRIN) - Can the entrepreneurial zeal, innovation and super-size budgets of private foundations succeed where a sclerotic and undisciplined international aid industry has failed? Or is the "New Philanthropy" simply executive arrogance, vanity and naïveté - rushing in where even the "aid experts" have failed?

Economist Jeffery Sachs believes the world's 2015 millennium development goal (MDG) targets could be met with a budget of US$150 billion a year. "Our governments are not acting. People are dying," he claims. Rather than looking to the G8, Sachs points to the Forbes Rich List as the best potential source of the cash. Just 5 percent, Sachs says, of the income of the world's 950 dollar billionaires would easily raise the funds.

Others demur. "The problems we face in reducing poverty and disease and other issues are not about money," warns Randolph Kent, director of the Humanitarian Futures Programme at King's College, University of London. "Indeed, there is a strong danger that if more money is thrown at the problems we will see an increase of problems and not the solutions."

The hyper-rich and their supporters do not see it that way. Bono, the Irishrock star and activist, has said: "Our generation has a unique opportunity to make history. We have the money, we have the knowledge, we know the people who can help Africa. We can make it happen with people like Bill Gates."


The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent $13.6 billion since 2000 on domestic and international projects. Its assets will top $60 billion when the contribution of investor Warren Buffett is included. In a style that has been called "venture philanthropy", the Gates Foundation tackles some of the toughest global problems, especially in health, taking a hands-on, innovation-friendly approach.

In one of its latest initiatives, in October 2007 the

[] foundation launched a $100 million, five-year programme providing small grants to "nurture unorthodox approaches to global health". Inaugurated in Cape Town, South Africa, the [] Grand Challenges Explorations programme will target scientists in Africa and Asia, offering research grants of $100,000.

The foundation has massively boosted key aspects of medical research and intervention, especially in areas considered to be unprofitable by the medical and pharmaceutical private sector.

The power of partnerships

Besides the hyper-rich are brokers like Bono and former US President Bill Clinton.

Clinton's annual fundraising gatherings in New York draw 1,000 of the world's richest and most innovative people together for three days. This year's event, in September, included 52 former or current world leaders. Each invitation-only participant pays $15,000 to discuss problems that were previously the preserve of the aid sector.

The Clinton Global Initiative says it "attempts to create a composition that matches people who have resources with those who have the most innovative ideas". The CGI does not make grants but behaves like a matchmaker. About $10 billion worth of "commitments" were made through the initiative, once described as a "stock exchange for donations to worthy causes".

Social entrepreneurs

On a less glittering scale, new types of relationships between the private and charitable sector are developing.

"Venture philanthropists", such as the UK's Impetus Trust [] are bringing venture capital techniques to the voluntary sector by working with charities to improve their management and performance. The US-based Acumen Fund [] invests in pro-poor business but expects monetary success as well as promoting worthy products and causes through enterprise.

Uneasy critics

But Nobel Prize winner and micro-credit pioneer Muhammad Yunus is sceptical: "If someone makes $100 profit and donates $5 to a good cause, and possibly only to save on taxes, that doesn't impress me very much."

"I am more interested in what global philanthropy looks like, not just the individual giving of a few Anglo-American billionaires," concurs Kent of London University.

"While it may be true that the aid sector hasn't yet successfully addressed some of the major global problems, there is no evidence the billionaires will be any more successful. I am not convinced that they have any greater advantage in terms of assessment or accountability than the traditional mechanisms available," concluded Kent.

"It's all too early to judge but I would be surprised if you find that they come up with radical solutions to old problems."

One billionaire at least feels no doubt about his impulse to act. "If we don't solve the problem of climate change," said American financier and philanthropist George Soros, "we will go after each other . . . Before we cook ourselves to death, we will kill each other."

British Virgin group entrepreneur Richard Branson epitomises the mood of the New Philanthropy: "I refuse to believe that we can't do it."

(c) IRIN. All rights reserved. More humanitarian news and analysis:

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Dear Colleagues

I was wondering how to get this new blog started and was helped by stumbling into Dr David More in Australia. His profile:
Dr David More MB, PhD, FACHI
I am vitally interested in making a difference to the quality and safety of Health Care in Australia through the use of information technology. There is no choice ... it has to be made to work! That is the reason the blog exists and why I keep typing :-) David. Disclaimer - Please note all the commentary are personal views based on the best evidence available to me - If I have it wrong let me know!
The subject I stumbled on was titled "The Sad Joke of Public Accountability and Transparency in Australia". The URL is

At the moment there are two groups of people ... a community of people that very much want to see accounting, accountability and transparency ... and a community of people who want to avoid this at all costs.

I am seeing information from many countries around the world ... and there is great concern about the failure of public bodies and their political leadership to give a decent accounting about what is going on ... this is evident in the USA and Canada ... in the UK and other countries in Europe ... in India ... in Australia. The failure of accounting in the public sector is not limited to countries in Africa ... it is now just about as blatant everywhere.

WHY? Bluntly put ... the only way to make a lot of money in a salaried position with modest remuneration is to have a lot going on "under the table". This type of behavior is everywhere ... it is obvious as soon as anyone tries to follow the money, but the system, and especially the "rule of law" makes it very very difficult to bring real justice to bear.

HOW can this be? Well ... the sad reality is that we, the people, have stood idly by for decades as this has become worse and worse. I am terribly dissatisfied by the performance of the accountancy profession that seems to have become a virtual irrelevance in the modern scheme of things. I am proud of my accountancy training, but I don't sense that the accountancy profession is standing up very much and making noise about the lack of accounting and accountability in important places around modern public institutions.

Dr. More wants to use modern information technology to help get accounting and accountability into the Australian Health Sector ... and I want to do something similar in the broad international relief and development sector. I call it public accounting ... fund flows intended to do a public good should, it seems to me, be accounted for in a way that the public can understand, and it should be possible to see that the amounts were reasonable in relationship to results. As a corporate CFO, this was a pretty standard practice ... in the public accounting arena, however, it is totally absent.

It will be interesting to see how public accounting emerges.


Peter Burgess
The Tr-Ac-Net Organization

A posting from April 2001

Dear Colleagues

I wrote the following in April, 2001 ... when I was already trying to get attention to the issue of failed relief and development sector performance. This posting was about the sad fact that the relief and development policy framework did not work at all well for developing countries. Not much has changed in the years since them!

Peter Burgess
TO: DIGOPP Working Group
From: Peter Burgess
Date: Mon Apr 16 2001 - 08:04:28 EDT

Dear Members of the DIGOPP Working Group,

I hope I am not too late! I hope this modest input on a priority for G8 action can still be put forward.

Simply put, it is for the G8 governments to encourage developing country government and the international ODA leadership to allow technology to be applied in its most cost-effective form. This means ending the legal and regulatory protection of high cost legacy organizations, whether public state enterprises or newly privatized corporate organizations.

This means an end to the concept of maximizing government revenue from sale of licenses.

The goal should be expressed in terms of availability of access to ICT, the cost of ICT and the prices of ICT. Building technology infrastructure should be encouraged, and even subsidized by government, and certainly not be constrained by onerous law and regulation.

The aim of policy, law and regulation should be to allow the market to make Internet access and communications technology as low cost and as affordably priced in developing countries as it is in the G8 countries.

The same aim should pervade not only the developing country enabling environment of law and regulation, but also be applied within the international business community, the official international trade environment and among the ODA institutions.

Peter Burgess
President and CEO
AfriFund Management Limited