Of course I am not beyond criticism and I invite readers to write and correct me where I am wrong or encourage me where I am presumed right. I would greatly welcome new ideas for Limeblasts.

A short while ago I had a very instructive dialogue with a friend and reader from Africa. I was told that the CFC project (which I had criticized) for the improvement of the quality of hides and skins in four African countries indeed did not generate the results that were expected in all of the countries, but that in Ethiopia, some encouraging results, albeit minimal, were obtained. Before the project, I was told, there were no statistics on the number and quality of hides and skins originating from areas beyond Addis Ababa since all hides and skins were traded exclusively in and from Addis. That meant that all raw materials were sent to Addis for trading and that no one had the slightest idea where these raw materials came from. Now, hides and skins are traded directly from the areas of origin, giving local collectors the benefits of value addition.

The same gentleman pointed out that he believed that I was right by hammering on about the inefficient and inappropriate use of funds provided by sponsor countries for leather related projects, but he expressed at the same time his fear that sponsor countries may become reluctant to continue financing leather and leather related projects because of my criticism. He agreed with me that maybe only a very small amount of the development funds actually reach the stakeholders for whom they are meant, while a large part of the majority of the funds is spent on air conditioners, business travel, five star hotels, staff, cars etc. Nevertheless he argued ‘please let at least that very small amount continue to arrive’!

It is quite obviously not my intention to stop the already meagre trickle of money that filters through ‘the system’ from arriving at the stakeholders. On the contrary! By blasting away on the inefficiency of projects, I try to provoke people to take proper action to make the trickle of funds grow into a healthy steady stream. I want the money to be taken away from those who are inappropriately creating their own retirement fund. The money should be made available to the stake-holders for whom it is meant. It is a known fact that Africa’s main problem is power play and corruption in whatever form, meaning not only bribes, but also moral corruption. By seriously tackling corruption and embezzlement, huge amounts would be saved from let us say ‘inappropriate distribution’. I would go as far as to propose that those individuals in top positions in the bureaucratic development pyramid, physically handling project funds in whatever form, should be audited for their personal and private wealth, and that of their closest relatives. This should be simple, because just adding up yearly salaries should enable one to determine if a person can build a million dollar mansion and conduct a certain lifestyle or not. In the USA and Europe you can’t fool the revenue services anymore by sporting a better lifestyle than your declared income allows. In the developing world, Bangladesh has started to adopt auditing its government officials I have been told, and real estate prices as well as the sales of luxury cars appear to have dropped sharply as a result of the auditing.

For very obvious reasons elected government officials in a host of countries can remain in office only for a limited number of years. The US President can be re-elected only once for a maximum tenure in office of eight years. Such limitations for holding office go back as far as the Roman Empire. Why can the same rule not be applied to presidents or secretary generals of associations? Changing management brings new and fresh ideas and avoids a lot of inconveniences. Of course the same elected officials will get other important and well paying jobs through the good old boys system, but in their new post they have to start from scratch with other people looking over their shoulders. Transparency should be advocated allowing remunerations of presidents and secretary generals of public funded associations to be published. These are public figures paid for by public money, so why should their salaries not be public? Why should we not be allowed to know how much money these public figures spend for their travel and accommodation?

To make it clear, I am not against funding. On the contrary. I am in favour of funding but not to keep air conditioners running. We need transparency and objective accountability, and that’s what’s missing all across the board at the expense of our trade and the development of our trade in areas which would and could be promising. We need to get rid of those who are inventing projects just to keep their jobs. We need to boost those who have bright, sensible, feasible and constructive ideas that make a difference to the target groups, not to their office budget. We need to get rid of the concept that projects must cost large amounts of money, when small relatively cheap feasible projects are not entertained because the amount of money is not big enough. We must get rid of the tradition of money only going in one direction because of inside roads, connections and friendships. An individual doesn’t stand a chance to get a good idea approved and funded, whereas the project factories know who to tackle for whatever lousy idea that everyone knows has no goal. Money must go to merit!

Coming back to my encounter with the above mentioned gentleman, he asked me also why I had not cooperated with the UsAid SFF project in Ethiopia about which I had written in an earlier Limeblast. His question surprised me and my answer surprised him. He was aware that the Ethiopian Tanners Association had discarded the SFF as being useless, impractical, but thought that I had refused to cooperate, and that my refusal was one of the reasons of the failure. I explained that the contrary was true and that I had never even been asked to cooperate, in spite of my availability and that my proposal to help and try to see what went wrong with the project was never entertained.

When I informed him that I had never received any sort of report, explanation, not one single photograph of what had been done, he seemed quite annoyed.

After this discussion I am quite curious about what really happened with this SFF project in Ethiopia and why it happened. At this point I cannot help but wonder for what reason I have never been asked for assistance, which I had offered free of charge, and which I herewith reiterate. One could suggest that the project was probably designed to demonstrate a failure, rather than a transparent attempt to make it work to the benefit of the quality of hides in the country.

Sam Setter