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Submitted by Bolormaa Amgaabazar on
Unconditional and untargeted transfer of mineral revenues to every citizen is a bad idea. I am saying this based on my experience from Mongolia and the 2 Papuan provinces in Indonesia. By simply being a citizen on Mongolia, although I lived abroad for the last 20 years, I was told that I was entitled to a share of mineral revenues. With my mom's urging, I registered myself at the embassy and received the first transfer of $70. I felt uneasy, as I knew that while for me it was not much money, for somebody else the same amount might be a life-saver. I donated this money to charity. When the embassy announced a registration for the second transfer of a larger sum of $500, I did not register. I am not rich, my husband could not find job, so I am a breadwinner for my family. Also, every month I send $500 to my mom in Mongolia, who is retired and whose pension is not enough to sustain her. I could have used $500, but again, I thought that for somebody else this money would mean much more. I talked to my friends and many of them felt the same. Shanta and Marcelo wrote that "Optimally, one would means-test the dividend transfers, ie one would give more to those who are poorer. But that could be an insurmountable political and practical road-block". Not insurmountable. In many countries around the world, including in many African countries, self-targeting by communities is used to provide assistance to the poorest without making politicians look bad. Other targeting mechanisms can be used successfully to avoid or overcome political and logistics hurdles. My experience in Indonesian Papua was that of an observer. The riches of the Papuan soil benefited Jakarta for many years, while Papua remained the least developed and one of the poorest provinces of Indonesia. At the threat of breaking away from Indonesia, Papua gained an autonomy status and with that, a hefty share of mineral revenues. The Papuan Governor distributed part of so called “autonomy fund” equally to every “native Papuan”. Local Javanese, Chinese, Bugis, and Malucans who lived there for several generations, were excluded. “Non-natives” received this discrimination with understanding. These “non-natives” are somewhat well-off, as they came to Papua to make a living and many have succeeded. So, I speculate, that these “non-natives” felt the same as me, thinking that the “native Papuans” need these relatively small amounts of money more than they do. When Papuans received cash, men collected money from their families and many of them got drunk. It was not something unexpected though, as I witnessed in Jayapura, the capital of the old Papua province (it was split into 2 later) many drunk civil servants in uniforms on the day they receive their paycheck. While both experiences above left me with lots of questions about the best value for money, dependency, and sustainability, my visits to self-help poor women groups in Southern India accessing Government’s micro-finance schemes, widows groups in Indonesia helped by donors, and conditional cash transfers by the Mexican government were much more compelling. One last thought I had while reading some comments was that while equal distribution of wealth might appeal to our sense of justice and equality, we know of enough examples from history that these utopian ideals do not work.