November 25, 2009 12:40
The Development Assistance Committee at the OECD meets Wednesday to decide whether to accept Korea into the committee. The DAC consists of the world's 22 largest economies, which account for 90 percent of global development funding. If accepted, Korea would become the second Asian country after Japan to join the group and the first country in the group that was once the recipient of development aid. For 50 years since independence from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, Korea received US$60 billion worth of aid from the international community.
Last year, Korea donated $803 million to official development assistance programs, accounting for just 0.09 percent of its gross national income. That boils down to just $16 per person and is dwarfed by the DAC average of $134 per citizen. The government said it plans to double its ODA funding by 2015 to account for 0.25 percent of GNI. But considering Korea's fiscal conditions and the size of its economy, there are limits to increasing the amount of aid over a short period.
The government needs to establish an assistance plan that fits its own capacity by presenting clear guidelines and criteria about recipients and amount of donations to be given. This will allow countries that receive smaller amounts of aid to use them effectively in boosting their standards of health and welfare. And the aid donations must be justified in the eyes of the Korean public so that the funding truly comes from the hearts of the people. Only then will the gesture move those who receive them.
"Korea should share its development experience with other developing countries," said Helen Clark, administrator of the UN Development Programme, on Monday. Countries receiving aid from Korea would probably want to increase the amount, but they would also want to learn more about Korea's know-how and goals that enabled the country to achieve political and economic success, transforming it from one of the world's poorest countries to rank among the top 10 global economies. For development assistance to benefit both donor and recipient, they must share a common set of ideals and goals.
In 2003, Korea provided credit to the Philippines in constructing a mass transit rail system near Manila, and a Korean construction company handled the project. But the construction forced 30,000 families living around the railway to relocate, causing Korea's aid to sow the seeds of discontent. China recently pledged $10 billion in aid to African countries but showed that it was more interested in the short-term goal of acquiring the continent's natural resources. This has drawn criticism from the international community.
The U.S. was given the label "ugly American" from the 1950s through the 1970s even though it shouldered most of the development funding around the world. To avoid such negative perceptions, Korea must conduct thorough studies of the actual situation in recipient countries and come up with assistance programs that fit their needs.
At present, there are 25 government departments and institutions that handle overseas assistance. It is difficult to come up with a set of principles and efficient strategies under these circumstances. The first thing Korea needs to do is formulate basic laws governing ODA programs.
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