Having more to say

March 25, 2013

Joachim von Amsberg Rzeczpospolita

You have come to Poland to meet the representatives of our authorities. What is the purpose of your visit?

We would like to see Poland actively involved in negotiations concerning International Development Assiciation (IDA). IDA is a World Bank aid fund for the poorest countries of the world. We prepare a joint pool of money collected from budgetary resources of 50 countries, and then this money is provided to the countries in need as grants or loans. Three years ago the fund received almost 50 billion US dollars. In two weeks time we are having the first meeting to discuss IDA strategy, priorities and funds for the next three years.  That is why I travel and talk to the partner countries which co-finance our fund, and to those which are the beneficiaries of the aid.

What exactly does IDA do?

IDA supports mostly governmental projects in 81 countries that are most in need, starting from African local communities, through infrastructure investments in Vietnam, through building schools in Bolivia. We believe that efficient institutions are the key to success in developmental aid, and it is impossible to build such institutions when one comes to a country or a community from the outside and tries to implement one’s own projects there. Rather, one should support national governments and NGOs and let them achieve intended outcomes based on their priorities.   

What major aid projects are supported by IDA now?

Energy sector in Africa and Asia is among IDA’s strategic priorities for the next three years. The question is how we can fight poverty and provide people with access to electricity in a way that will be consistent with global efforts connected with climate change. We expect that funding for these projects will rise substantially over the next few years. Another priority is support for the development of national identity in Afghanistan. We also want to provide strong assistance to local communities.

What is your vision of Poland’s role in sponsoring developmental aid?

Poland contributes to IDA, but the amounts are quite moderate – recently, it was 10 million US dollars in a pool of 50 billion US dollars. The thing that interested me most during meetings with Polish officials, however, was the issue how Polish experience connected with democratic transition and economic development could help other developing countries. Needless to add, I do not mean any ready-made prescriptions since every country is unique, but certain elements of Poland’s transition experience could be a good example for other countries.

Take Polish model of privatization, which has proven to be successful. There are many countries, such as Vietnam, for example, which try to attract foreign capital making sure that the entire society can reap the benefits, not just the elite. They have not been as successful in that area as you, so you can share with them your best practices. The same with public procurement system. Many countries have inefficient policies in that regard, for example due to corruption problems. When I talk e.g. to Vietnamese officials, I tell them: go to Warsaw, see it with your own eyes, talk to them how they do it. This may be more convincing than World Bank recommendations.

This year will be difficult for Polish economy. It will be hard to convince Polish government to increase financial support.

Certainly, Poland has its own developmental challenges, but it does not preclude greater commitment in solving global problems. Poland is now a large European economy and its voice should be more prominent on the international arena, including though greater financial commitment in international institutions.  That is why we hope that Poland will increase its IDA participation in terms of knowledge and expertise as well as in terms of funding.

Poland has the ambition to join the club of developed countries.  

You are on the right track. We must keep that in mind, though, that the world is getting more and more complicated and the simple breakdown into developed countries and developing ones is now somewhat blurred. Several decades ago it was all simplified – there were rich countries, the so-called first world, and poor, third world countries. There was a ‘second world’ somewhere in-between, too. Knowledge and money were transferred one-way from the rich to the poor, so that the latter could one day become the former. Currently this approach is very much changed.

Is it because of economic crisis?

The crisis affected predominantly the so-called first world, and our thinking about development had to be reformulated. Countries which until recently were regarded as the third world are now global powers, politically and economically, and developed countries learn from them. It turned out that high level of GDP per capita – a simple measure of wealth – does not always protect against shocks. There are the United States: a global power affected by budgetary problems. My advice for Poland is this: do not look around in search of a simple model of development. Design a Polish model and do it your way.  

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