BRICS by brick: An emerging new pole in the world
Recent agreement, among BRICS nations [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa] to develop a new development finance institution is a highly welcome step. A unipolar world needed very badly a new pole. India has the opportunity as the head of the new institution to create new standards of transparency, accountability, participation, democracy and empathy. The World Bank culture must be systematically shunned if the new institution has to make a difference. The first would be to avoid the tendency to make it a well-paying place for retired bureaucrats. The whole character of the institution will get changed if it brings together professionals on merit with bias towards youth and preference for enthusiasm over experience. It must be remembered that we need a new institution because we find the experience of the older institution not very welcome and happy. If we reproduce the same culture and same process of inducting staff, then there is no way a new culture can be crafted.
It is well known that society is expecting much more openness and much higher opportunity for participation in decision making. Every project document will have to be shared in local language with the communities to be affected by the outcome of the projects so that they can voice their opinions. Public sharing should be obligatory and modification of the project should be an indicator of degree of participation. If the original goals and the activities do not undergo a shift through the consultation, then either consultation was a farce or the project designers were so smart that they could read the minds of millions of people. World Bank does not do it.
The public procurement system under funded projects should follow the Brazilian model of reverse auction which made it possible for Brazil to reduce its procurement cost by 40 per cent more than a decade ago. Fiscal prudence is one of the norms for maintaining economic stability at national and international level. Subsidizing those who don’t deserve is a recipe for disaster. Free power and free water have created huge problem of non-sustainable resource use. Similarly, giving subsidized foods to people who don’t need it is a wasteful policy. Every country should make anti-poverty programme more targeted and focused. If these programmes can also become more entrepreneurial, then creativity of the people will be harnessed much better. The students of colleges should be mobilized for audit of various programmes and make suggestions for their local adaptation and improvement. If younger generation is involved more actively in the process of governance, then the future leaders are likely to become more accountable. The selection of the projects, the methodology of their appraisal, the choice of indicators for monitoring the success, etc., will need reconceptualization. The new development finance institution must promote zero tolerance for corruption. The salary structure of the staff must be compatible with the living standards in BRICS nations. These should not be set to European standards. That one step will make it less attractive for opportunistic people who join such services for post-retirement perks and other benefits. A new ethics of frugality and simplicity must be practiced to create a role model effect and influence the institutions financed by this new bank. The regional cooperation and joint ventures within and among the BRIC nations must be particularly encouraged. There should be a strong bias in favour of investments in the ideas of youth so that an entrepreneurial revolution takes place along with the kind of a Cultural Revolution. The long march of chairman Mao, the socio-technological revolution by President Lula, the great literary tradition of Leo Tolstoy Russia which inspired Mahatma Gandhi should be built upon in the new framework of development. The Chinese achievements of science and technology, high quality publications, surpassing global record in patents, should be complimented with the grassroots innovation movements of India, Russian achievements in space and nuclear power and Brazilian achievements in green energy and social technology and South African resolve to achieve cultural pluralism in a country so deeply divided for so long. There is an opportunity for redefining the discourse on development by the leadership of BRICS nations. The sun rising in the east should shower its rays much more evenly and compassionately worldwide. China will have to contain its desire to have excessive control on African minerals and other resources. Africa should see a new era of knowledge and technological public goods being shared by the BRICS nations so as to create a more emancipatory developmental conditions. I hope that Indian Presidency of the new development bank will set new standards of probity, purposefulness and prosperity through an open, inclusive and shared culture.