Dr. Kwame Nantambu

T&T Prime Minister's aid comments dead on target: Updated

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
November 18, 2010

Within recent times, a plethora of unfounded, misleading and misconstrued remarks/opinions have been levelled at and/or against T&T's Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's aid comments in the aftermath of hurricane Tomas' devastation/destruction in some CARICOM countries.

To recap, the Prime Minister stated: "We will have to look at ways in which we would be able to assist. But you would recall my comments earlier this year when I said there must be some way in which Trinidad and Tobago would also benefit."

The fact of the matter is that her public aid comments neither fall within the category of her suffering "from foot-in-mouth disease" nor her democratic right "to have embarrassing gaffes."

This article not only seeks to clear the air in regard to the Prime Minister's humanitarian aid comments but also, more importantly, to put them in their proper, correct economic context.

The stark reality is that the national and international "rush to judgement" editorials/analyses totally missed the real issue, namely, the endemic conceptual, structural modus operandi of foreign aid.

The backdrop to this analysis is that it must be clearly understood that there is no free lunch in this interdependent world; life is a two-way street; charity begins at home; and that foreign aid is just another form of public sector (government) investment. This backdrop is a sine qua non to grasp the true nature/meaning of the Prime Minister's aid comments.

By way of elucidation, when a private person/individual donates money /aid to charity, just as the Haitian Relief Fund, he/she also benefits by filing this donation as a tax write-off.

In other words, this person benefits from giving humanitarian aid. The same is true when a public entity (government) donates money, as in foreign aid, to any country. Both sides benefit.

A la the private individual, the economy of the donor public sector benefits. That's how the system works, period.

In addition, every year, the tax return of the President and First Lady of the United States is made public; ergo, Americans are informed about the amount of money they gave to charity because this amount is filed as a tax write-off by them. As such, not only do these two private individuals benefit from giving humanitarian aid/charity but the organization(s) that got the money also benefit. Again, both parties benefit. That's how the system of giving aid/charity works. What's the problem?.

Ergo, the real issue is not what Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said (because she spoke the truth) but rather her ill-advised, ill-timed, off-the-cuff ex post explanation.

More specifically, in order for everyone to get the correct, perfect handle on how foreign aid actually works in the real world, Curt Tarnoff and Larry Nowels both specialists in Foreign Affairs and National Defence, conducted a study for the United States Congressional Research Service (CRS) titled "Foreign Aid: An Introductory Overview of U.S. Programs and Policy" (updated 15 April 2004) in which they categorically stated:

"Under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the President may determine the terms and conditions under which most forms of assistance are provided. In general, the financial condition of a country--- its ability to meet repayment obligations---has been an important criterion for the decision to provide a loan or grant. Many argue that the foreign aid program brings significant indirect financial benefits to the United States, in addition to the direct benefits derived from reflows of aid dollars. First, it is argued that provision of military equipment through the military assistance program and food commodities through PL 480 helps to develop future, strictly commercial markets for these products. Second, as countries develop economically, they are in a position to purchase more goods from abroad and the United States benefits as a trade partner. Food assistance commodities are purchased wholly in the United States and most expenditures for shipping those commodities to recipient countries go entirely to U.S. freight companies.

Under current legislation, three-fourths of all food aid must be shipped by U.S. carriers. On this basis, a rough estimate suggests that more than 90%--- at least $1billion in FY 2004-—of food aid expenditures will be spent in the United States."

Reality check--- the United States benefits (more than 90%) from its disparate humanitarian foreign aid and food assistance programs--- proven fact by afore-mentioned experts.

"She said what?"—why can't and/or shouldn't the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago also benefit?--- what's the problem?.

Moreover, the stark reality is that these two American experts on U. S. foreign aid program/policy have proven that there was absolutely no need for T&T's Prime Minister to apologize "to the region for her statement that any aid given to Caribbean countries affected by Tropical Storm Tomas must in some measure benefit Trinidad and Tobago" because that's the way the system of foreign humanitarian aid works.

Indeed, the entire Caribbean community, including citizens of T&T, need to be more au-courant about the mechanics of foreign before levelling uninformed accusations/criticisms against the economic reality of foreign aid.

Prime Minister Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissessar was perfectly correct in extending humanitarian aid to fellow CARICOM countries, however, she exhibited political inexperience in the process. Maybe, her economic/political adviser (if she has one) would and/or should have prevented this political faux pas.

In the final analysis, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's aid comments are perfectly and directly on proven target, while those of her national and international critics are totally off-base, to say the least.

More power to the People's Partnership (PP) government of Trinidasd and Tobago under the leadership of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Shem Hotep ("I go in peace").

Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecturer at Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies.

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