Revisiting development gobbledygook

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By Ramon Dacawi

Benchwarmer

Friday, May 23, 2014


(It’s been over a decade since I wrote the piece below, and development gobbledygook continues to emerge from the mouths of so-called “development workers” whose substantial work, I suspect, is to keep minting and dishing out labels of development in their project proposals and so-called “terminal reports” that only they could understand.)

It's still hard for me to understand, much less demystify, the emerging and fast-changing language in the name of development. Whether these are mouthed and espoused by government technocrats or "civil society consultants," the jargon remains over my head.

In a forum in Thailand in 1997, I heard the term “civil society” uttered more than 50 times by speakers coming from Southeast Asian Countries whose projects were being supported and documented by the Canadian International Development Agency-Canada-Asean Governance Innovations Network, through the Institute on Governance based in Ottawa.

Unable to make sense of it, I asked whether there was also an “uncivil society”, and whether they come only from government. It triggered laughter and I consoled myself with the thought that I’d contributed – even at my own expense - a little humor in an international forum of otherwise formal and stern-looking doctors of education and philosophy seriously making their presentations. Initially, I thought they were discussing the beginning and future of the universe, not this thing called “governance”.

I continue to hear “sustainable development” now and then. It was the rallying point and guidepost of the 1992 World Summit in Rio de Janeiro. One environmentalist patiently told me the term is the same as "resource multi-use", whatever that means, too.

In the same token, it is taking me sometime to grapple with my ignorance on how to “touch base” with, “inter-face” or “cross-fertilize” ideas with development workers. No thanks to the coin minters, management language is being “specialized” and “institutionalized” overnight, “optimized” to the hilt and becoming a masterpiece of great complexity among the stars, far from the ken of ordinary mortals like me.

Unable to transcend the overly simplified stage they call “micro-level”, I admit inability to cope. My ignorance gives me the creeps, as math did in school. There is that gnawing feeling – and fear – inside me that, without my knowledge, understanding and consent, the wheel has been re-invented and it is about to run me over. I think they call this “information anxiety”.

I like “governance” best for its definition: the sharing of power, authority, duty and resources and commitment. Good governance brings together those in formal government, those who changed their label from non-government organizations to civil society, business and others to address together an issue, tackle a problem or do a project for the benefit of the community. I guess it was also called “multi-stakeholder partnership” among “champions” of development. President Noynoy Aquino calls it “public-private partnership”.

Top priority or “flagship” of this partnership now is the relentless fight against poverty, which, on a “macro-level” is “endemic” or common in the so-called Third World (or is it South?). It is being addressed with support from “development consultants” bring in development funds and its language from the “North” or the developed countries. In Thailand, Dr. Opart Panya of Mahidol University told me, these workers are called “development tourists” as they are tourists in the name of development.

Whatever. It is consoling to note that some of the rich and powerful have always been fighting poverty. They never lower their defenses lest they become part of and add to those already walling in it.

B-O-T is, perhaps, the best “indicator” of my ignorance of development gobbledygook. The term has replaced “turn-key” in the implementation of development programs. It’s applied, they say, to vital government projects which formal government can hardly fund and, therefore, will have to pass on to the private sector to build, operate and eventually transfer to government.

Long before B-O-T was coined, it was already being practiced in Benguet and other parts of the Cordillera. They built the Ambuclao and Binga Dams here, operated them and transferred the electric power to Metro-Manila. To do this, they transferred the displaced Ibaloys, whose ancestral lands were inundated, somewhere. Like pine trees, the displaced and dispossessed were unable to adjust to the lowland heat and had no recourse but to return, even if they had been stripped of their lands.

They also built the mines, operated them and transferred the gold, silver and copper to Metro-Manila and elsewhere, and paid the taxes to Makati.

That, I guess, made the Cordillera a genuine pioneer and model in another development jargon: “user-friendly”. (e-mail:mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments)

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on May 24, 2014.

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