We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Till Bruckner worked for NGOs in Georgia and Afghanistan before managing Transparency International's Georgia’s aid monitoring programme in 2008-2009. He writes in Aid Watch: Just Asking That Aid Benefit The Poor about Secret NGO Budgets.
Are you ashamed of your organization’s budgets? Do you think your supporters would be shocked if they could see exactly how you are spending their money? Do you feel the need to keep your finances hidden from your local partners and clients? If you answered all three questions with “yes,” you might be working for an international NGO.
Private donors in wealthy countries simply lack the information needed to hold aid and development NGOs to account for how their donations are used thousands of miles away. The only information available is that which is voluntarily provided by the NGOs, which are extremely reluctant to open their operations to scrutiny....
Institutional donors like USAID usually do have a presence on the ground in developing countries, but they rarely directly monitor NGO activities in the field. Instead, they usually, though not always, rely on information provided by their grantees. Interviews with dozens of donor and NGO representatives in Georgia, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan suggest that neither NGOs nor donor country offices have an incentive to document instances in which aid money is stolen, wasted, or unwisely spent. Projects are almost invariably portrayed as successful, irrespective of realities on the ground....
Aid organizations have responded to concerns about their lack of accountability through a variety of initiatives and mechanisms intended to create transparency within the aid community. Senior staff members at NGOs’ global headquarters readily sign up to noble-sounding initiatives and commit their organizations to meeting certain standards. But these measures lack teeth and often require organizations to act as a whistleblower against a partner agency. As a result, they are almost universally ignored in practice.
A respondent to Bruckner's top piece says he's afraid to alarm the natives:
Although open accounting can seem like a good practice, it is very tricky in poor countries. I have been running international projects for twenty years. The rent on my house is higher than the salary of many of my staff. My salary is nearly triple the highest local salary. Additionally, my top staff is paid well–many times more than what our beneficiaries receive. I think that telling our beneficiaries how much we earn would reinforce the gap between them and us. It would also complicate relations with our government partners (who earn less). I am always happy to share general information about costs (our program in the Haitian-Dominican borderlands is around $650,000/year), but see little upside to sharing details.
Amen to that. There are so many good, smart locals who could and would do the job. There is no reason to pay expat salaries in most of those cases except it gives an American a great adventure on the charity's dime. Even as a Peace Corps volunteer, I made more money than any of my counterparts.
When I was working in the oil field overseas, similar ratios of income disparity existed between expatriate personnel and local personnel. But we didn't fool ourselves that we were on a mission from God to assist the poor natives.
The trend in overseas operations was to replace expats with locals. If you can have a local do the same job at half the price - or less- the change to local personnel makes economic sense. When Venezuela's oil was nationalized in 1976 the oil operations were by then staffed nearly completely by Venezuelans, which made for a smooth transition to local control. Until Thugo Chavez got his hands on PDVSA, it was one of the few well-run government-owned oil companies.
While I agree with the two previous commenters that it would be preferable to replace the gold-plated NGO do-gooders with locals, one fly in the ointment is the desire in many cultures to use such a position to enrich oneself and/or one's family or klan. Corruption is not inevitable, but it is a much bigger danger than in the developed world. I never paid a bribe in the US, but in Venezuela it was so much a part of life that when I arrived, management informed me of the proper way to finesse traffic cop bribes onto expense reports. If a gold-plated NGO expat can run an honest operation, his increased salary may be worth it. Unfortunately, from what I have read, many NGOs in Somalia and other such countries pay bribes to various thugs to keep operating, so no easy answer here. Perhaps the solution is to do away with NGO operations if excessive corruption. extortion is found. Why should we pay bribes in Somalia in order to distribute food?
Countries that respect liberty, ownership of property and freedom to buy and sell wind up as wealthy nations. They're the only ones who do. Nations that choke off their freedoms for security and equality of outcomes (read Western Europe and Japan) lose their productivity with their liberty.
No NGO operations or charity work will change that. Free governments lead to wealthy citizens.
And the sooner the development operation can become a local operation, the sooner it will succeed.