Nepali Times
A mercenary for democracy


When the protesters went on the rampage at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings in Prague last week, Mark Malloch Brown no doubt allowed himself a sigh of relief. Until just over a year ago, his job as the public race of the World Bank would have put him directly in the firing line for the biggest rallies against globalisation since the protests which shook the World Trade Organisation talks in Seattle last December. Trying to justify the bank to people who believe babies are murdered in developing countries and environments destroyed in the organisation\'s name is no easy task, even for a man with as impressive a track record in the black arts of political spin doctoring as is Malloch Brown. Instead, he has swapped his post as head of external relations at the bank for the top job at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), an organisation that most development campaigners regard as one of the good guvs of the development aid world, although even its best friends would admit it has not always been the most effective outfit.

Among his goals are putting Africa online, reshaping his organisation as the main source of advice to developing countries and mediating in the debate which has split the development community over whether economic growth or redistribution of resources from rich to poor is more important in tackling global poverty. Malloch Brown admits the contrast between the bank and the UNDP was "a bit daunting" at first. The UNDP runs on a shoestring compared to resources available to the bank and the fund. Its core budget this year was $700 million-less than what the bank spends on administration-although with the extra resources it mobilises the overall total rises to about $2.5 billion. The bank\'s lending programme, by contrast, totals $7 billion. "It\'s all got there by a wing and a prayer," says Malloch Brown. In fact, the budget has been declining over the past decade from a peak in 1992 of $1.2 billion. The UNDP has been a victim of the aid fatigue which hit the main donors after the collapse of the Iron Curtain removed the political justifications for many countries\' lending programmes.

A British national with a long track record in the international system-he worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the early 1980s-Malloch Brown came to the UNDP at the request of the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to shake up the place and be part of Annan\'s reforming agenda which was showcased at the recent millennium summit.

Malloch Brown was received initially with suspicion. Some poor countries believed he had been chosen to smuggle a bank perspective into an institution which has always been seen as an ally of the developing world. While the World Bank and IMF are under the thumb of the donor countries-the Group of Seven leading industrialised economies controls nearly half of the votes on the Fund\'s management board-the UNDP has always been much closer to the recipients of aid.

Malloch Brown freely admits he preaches the Bank\'s line about the need to accompany aid with political and economic reform and he deliberately set out to turn the UNDP\'s focus to the importance of good governance. It was a message not universally popular with aid recipients unaccustomed to receiving lectures on reform from their friends at the UNDP.

"In the first six months I had a bit of rough ride because I said governance ought to be our priority. There was a lot of initial caution; the developing country representatives in New York said \'Oh my God, he\'s another part of this secret political version of the Washington consensus." For some developing country governments the strings which come attached to aid programmes these days, requiring them to consult with their electorates, are seen as a new form of political structural adjustment.

But the initial concern has dissipated, according to Malloch Brown, as poor countries have come to realise that they need to change. They would still rather hear the message from the UNDP, however, than endure the mere heaw-hapded approach of the Bank of the Fund. Malloch Brown\'s belief in the importance of democratic reforms comes from his rime at the UNHCR during the late 1970\'s, which convinced him that the root of all problems in developing countries was a lack of democracy.

"If you have a competitive political system in which to resolve differences, you won\'t have refugee flows," he says. It was also the spur behind the next stage of his varied career, his work as a political consultant for various developing country governments in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He describes himself then as a "mercenary for democracy", and he and his colleagues chalked up some impressive victories, including Corv Aquino\'s election campaign in the Philippines in 1986 and the no vote in the Chilean referendum of 1988 which eventually ended General Pinochet\'s rule.

The wave of fledgling democratic governments which came to power in the 1980s were ripe tor advice from Malloch Brown\'s consultancy with its sophisticated polling techniques and understanding of political systems. He learnt a lot, as well, along the way.

"A lot of these nice phrases about local ownership in the development community I learnt at the political coalface." Malloch Brown sees his role at the UNDP as the culmination or his previous experience. The organisation clearly needs a PR overhaul to restore donors\' confidence, bur at the same time he has to go gently to avoid alienating the trust of the developing countries, which is its biggest asset. The old-style UNDP ran thousands of small development projects and had a reputation tor being bureaucratic and inefficient. Malloch Brown thinks the project-based approach is a waste of time when its resources are dwarfed by other aid agencies. "UNDP was in the wrong business, we didn\'t offer any value added," he says. "In a tight market for official development assistance we were going nowhere."

The plan now is to reposition the UNDP as an advisory and advocacy agency. That is not, he hastens to add, because advice is cheap, although that is an advantage, but because "if you look at the environment in which we are operating, advice is a scarce commodity". In fact, turning the UNDP into an advisory body will bring it once again into competition with the Bank, which is also championing the governance agenda. His old boss. James Wolfensohn, has been trying to reposition his institution as the "listening bank". But in a head-to-head battle over who should be the prime source of advice to the developing world the UNDP has many advantages.

While the Bank is handicapped by the perception that it is in the pocket of the G7, the UNDP can capitalise on trust. "I\'m stunned by the freedom I have to raise issues with governments," says Malloch Brown. The backlash against globalisation which started in Seattle last December has also benefited the UNDP. "The Seattle aftershocks which have driven the developed countries back to us made them more cautious and anxious to find an alternative path."

Malloch Brown is no advocate of stopping the processes of economic integrarion, however. "Globalisation is inevitable: the question is on what terms." he says. "We have to make sure that poor people are included in the process."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)