Yesterday Herman Snelder, director of a Dutch consultancy and training firm focusing on international cooperation (MDF), tried to bring some sense to the development sector in the Netherlands. A recent debate in The Hague showed the relatively shallowness of the discussions. The major ideological divides remained untouched, possibly illustrating the move to the centre of the labour party in the Netherlands. Socialists, well represented amongst development agencies, embracing liberal principles by virtue of a, what is called, progressive agenda. Happy to jointly do away with conservatism the Dutch liberals and socialists started a journey that will bring them into a 'New World'. Question is: With how many people will they end-up there.
Do public-private partnerships deliver?
The cabinet still has an Anglo-Saxon orientation towards markets and the way they should function, despite the backlash England is experiencing right now from a number of trials of outsourcing key-functions of governance (like the sub-contracting of the London subway). Public-Private partnerships that did not really bring the promised efficiency gains but instead increased the tax burden.
"Management for Development Foundation" rightly asks attention for the what is called Rhineland model that prefers longer term prosperity and stability (stakeholder value) over short-term profits (shareholder value) that characterises the Anglo-Saxon model. However, there is one problem. Due to abundant risk sharing between governments and the private sector in the past decade (quite against liberal principles of free markets where banks should be allowed to fail), the state is close to bankrupt and has to ask its citizens for finance. In situations where the state failed to deliver for its citizens it will be hard to raise public support for government finance.
Localizing the Rhineland model
Therefore, I suggest we reinvent the Rhineland model, bringing it down to the local level. Strong communities will prevail in a world of failing states. The internet offers opportunities to simply by-pass the national boundaries. However, it also offers opportunities for free market capitalists to confuse their socialist counterparts and get them going for ungoverned entrepreneurship on the digital highway. This will cause the freely floating around the globe of capital and resources, easy to catch for those smart enough to master the internet.
Role of ICTs
It is for this reasone that the current WICT ('wicked') conference is of utmost importance to the international development agenda. And a few countries have realized that ideological battles about governing models need to be fought at the digital highway. Traffic rules need to be set. Boundaries agreed. However, typical countries demanding these regulatory frameworks at the moment are Turkey, Russia and Iran. Not really because they favor the Rhineland model over the Anglo-Saxon model but simply to have the means to control 'subversive' citizen movements.
Here is where the ideological and the instrumental need to be distinguished. The rule setting should support participation, equality and inclusion and avoid discrimination, repression and opportunism that is of a corrupt nature. Where the internet supports breakthroughs in situations of suppression freedom needs to be encouraged. At the same time breakthroughs that are aiming at distorting the status quo and try to bring some new kind of world order, that subsequently requires everyone to submit to, may carry dictatorial characteristics.
System change or alternative systems development
This is why I would like to plea for alternative information and communication networks and protocols to be developed, along with the internet. I do support initiatives like www.ruralweb.info that aims at developing local content for marginalized groups. As in many parts of the world the internet hardly has any relevance to the local political economy. To those with internet access it often provides a doorway to escape to another world.
Therefore it may be worth exploring how to develop independent systems of information exchange that will really be supportive to the local economy and bring information governance back to the local level. These systems may vary from traditional drum beats to highly sophisticated ICT infrastructure. As long as the public and private sector walk alongside each other and citizens can make choices whether or not to make use of the services. I just wonder if such considerations are underpinning the discussions in Dubai at the moment.
Check-out the blog of Samantha Dickinson to follow the conference from a participant perspective.
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
Click here for a summary.
Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.