Are we becoming over-dependent on foreign experts?

By TP Saran

Leaders must start by having a minimum of capacity, and of faith in themselves so that they do not cry ‘wolf’ every time there is a problem to solve and then outsource to bigger wolves

In this globalized world, it would be ridiculous to think that we can always go it alone and that we can altogether do away with any inputs from foreign sources for running our affairs. We are a small country, and by virtue of this very fact we have certain limitations of capacity – but that in no way means that we cannot keep building capacity to optimum levels, with foreign help if need be, and retain the option of the latter subsequently only when this is really essential.

Each situation has its specifics, and these must be carefully considered before any announcement or decision is made, so as to avoid embarrassment at either the national or sector level concerned. For example, in the matter of the Michaela Harte murder, a commonsensical query was raised: will the country call for investigating teams from different countries each time a national of a given country is concerned? The obvious answer was that this was neither possible nor acceptable; after all we are a sovereign country, and after over 40 years of independence surely we have to stand on our own feet?

And similarly for other sectors in the country: should we keep calling experts at the drop of a pin? We are doing this again for the flash floods and the White Dot scam, even before the local teams have completed their work and given an indication as to which particular areas they will require outside assistance in. Isn’t this sapping their confidence and sending the wrong signal to the population, that the county has no trust in its own sons of the soil? Is this reflexive recourse to foreigners the appropriate response every time?

It would seem that we still have not got our priorities right in this country, namely a competent workforce whose knowledge and skills are continuously updated and upgraded. This has always been absolutely vital, but is even more so in the modern day because the rate at which knowledge and skills is becoming obsolete is staggering, because of non-stop improvements in science and technology. Continuing training is a sine qua non for everyone in every sector, and there should be no excuse for that. National authorities must facilitate this process by means of the appropriate regulatory structures.

Besides the training of appropriate human resource in adequate numbers, they must also be equipped with whatever they require in terms of infrastructure and equipment for the latter’s proper functioning. Right now this is not the case in our country and, further, we make the easier choice of shooting the messenger whenever attention is drawn to shortcomings.

There are also issues of setting up the required structures and systems, which concern memberships/headships, lines of command and reporting, financing and so on. There are enough brains in this country to analyse, synthesise and make cogent recommendations. However, more often than not, such recommendations are not even given a hearing or disappear during ‘processing on file’ for reasons best known to certain perpetrators. How many reports are gathering dust in drawers in various offices?

On the other hand, there are also cases where officers appointed in positions of responsibility use their connections with overseas contacts to have the latter come over to do work which the officers are supposed to do in the first place, and through their occult local leverage at higher levels they manage to make the ‘experts’ get alluring contracts. And since appetite builds up, especially when one comes from colder climes and a free holiday in the C’est un Plaisir island is so desirable, the trips multiply at the people’s expense. When the actual contribution of the expert is assessed, it is then found that the cost-benefit ratio is negative.

It would be interesting to conduct a proper audit of such advisory inputs in the name of transparency and accountability. There will surely be surprises.

More concretely, as a country we must genuinely have faith in the intelligence and know-how of our countrymen/women, and give them all the support and backup that they need to perform to international standards. This is not impossible, but leaders must start by having a minimum of capacity, and of faith in themselves so that they do not cry ‘wolf’ every time there is a problem to solve and then outsource to bigger wolves…

In that case, we might as well begin by outsourcing government itself to some foreign consultancy to run the country!

* Published in print edition on 5 April 2013

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