Community voices: interview with Paubert Tsimanaoraty and Elisa Razafiniarivo

By Lorena Cotza Nov 05, 2020

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Ahead of the Finance in Common summit, we speak with Paubert Mahatante Tsimanaoraty (expert on environmental issues and fisheries) and Elisa Razafiniarivo (National Platform of Civil Society Organizations in Madagascar, member of FORUS) about the situation in Madagascar, development finance and human rights.

What’s the impact of development projects in Madagascar?

Paubert: If you check all the reports from development banks in Madagascar and all their records, you’d see that there are sometimes gaps between what’s happening in reality and what is documented. I am 39, so I’ve seen many projects, and I’m from deep Southern Madagascar where a famine is happening now; we’re living in critical conditions, very harsh ones.

On the one hand, development banks – such as the World Bank, African Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund – help fund government projects. Sometimes this process involves civil society representatives and sometimes it doesn’t, which is fine, as this relationship between government and civil society is a work in progress. The government sometimes sees civil society as being manipulated by the opposition, so we need to be careful, but we want them to understand that we represent the people, and so we deserve to be consulted. 

One of the problems is that when you look at how much money is spread and used to help the community to develop, to address climate change and reduce poverty…after a project ends, after 3 or 5 years, we see that there’s no sustainability. And sustainability is the main issue; even during the project there’s not always clarity about how the community is supposed to benefit. 

Another issue is about paying back the money, and this is an issue most citizens don’t understand, as the Malagasy translation of World Bank funding is “donation”. But it isn’t a donation, and it’s supposed to be paid back most of the time.

Let’s take the example of the project “Safety net”, a project initiated by the Ministry of Population, in 2015-6. We had a deep crisis related to food security and famine in the southern part of Madagascar. Through that project, the World Bank deployed hundreds of millions of dollars, as did USAID and some others. There was a basket fund and the UNDP, USAID, the World Bank, and many international funds contributed. The fund was used to help the community to overcome the crisis. Money was distributed directly to communities –  around 15 dollars monthly per household. It was a source of local corruption – some people were not qualified, but received it as they’re related to the mayor or chief of the local administration. Instead of the real targets of the project benefitting, there was corruption. What happened is also that during distribution of these funds, the flow of money coming into the village caused inflation – lots of demand and little supply. The second thing is that the money was sometimes used for alcohol and also sexual exploitation.

Let’s take another example – another World Bank funded project, SWIOFISH, a South-western Indian Ocean fishery and aquaculture project, worth $85 million dollars, for 15 years, of which 5 have elapsed. Some money has already been taken from the bank and been used, but the government bought 35 4x4s with this money. So far, we don’t see the impact of the project. Maybe this is partially as it’s only a third of the way through and we need to wait and see.

The last example I’ll say is the PCAP, a project to support fishing communities, an African Development Bank project. 4x4s, as usual, were bought, and also built some sort of units to help fishermen treat their products, to wash and prepare them. No fisherman has used these units – at least 12 were built, and 1 unit cost 1 billion Malagasy francs in 2013. Fish aggregation devices were deployed, too, but a few months after their deployment, they were destroyed by angry fishermen as they didn’t see direct benefit.

To sum up, what I’d like to say is that we need to undertake some research to see the real impacts of these interventions. After all, the money has to be paid back, so civil society must stand up and get some support from partners to be able to measure and share some recommendations with the governments and the bankers so that they can improve their approach.

Is civil society ever consulted in relation to development projects?

Elisa: It’s true that there are a lot of development projects in Madagascar – but my question is this: are we really listening to the most vulnerable? Are we able to respond to the fundamental needs of these vulnerable people? In my opinion, there are no space for public participation, and they don’t listen to the local population. The spaces that exist now aren’t really functional – civil society is often consulted as a formality, which isn’t effective if we wish to address the population’s needs. 

Paubert: In answer to that question, I’d say that I, as a civil society representative, was never involved in consultation for project implementation. The same goes for the community – levels of education also play a role and can be used as a shield by the government and by the banks. They rely just on their information sent by technicians. According to them, technicians have talked to the villagers, and this is the consultation, though it isn’t compulsory. Most of the time, the government uses the term “emergency”, and says that they can’t make the bankers wait. There’s always a rush to do something in order to receive and use funding – so the government always has excuses to avoid this consultation. As a civil society, in Madagascar, we have spoken out regarding this situation, because the result is that we borrow money from banks, and now we have a lot of debt, and the results of the money that we’ve borrowed isn’t at all proportional to the amount borrowed. We need civil society involvement.

Are activists speaking out against issues related to development projects at risk in Madagascar?

Paubert: Honestly, I’ve never heard of someone being attacked after criticising a government project of the World Bank. However, I, for example, as a university teacher and a state employee – I face some limitations. I can be reached through my boss or my minister. There could be indirect punishment – not being promoted because you’re a big mouth, or missing other opportunities. This can happen at ground level, too. Activists in Madagascar are still timid, because this concept of activism in Madagascar is perceived negatively. When you criticise bigger projects, even highly educated people can take it as an anti-development stance. This is a situation that we deal with in everyday situations in Madagascar.

Also, in 2018, the government wanted to promote the blue economy in Madagascar. Chinese bankers were ready to fund the project, $5 billion dollars for 15 years. The project intended to use 330 fishing vessels within Malagasy water territory to fish and compete with traditional fishers. As a fishery expert, I was opposed to that project because I knew that this project would lead to stock depletion, and because as a biologist, I know that Madagascar cannot have that many vessels fishing at that time. What happened is that I was threatened by the advisor of the former president when he wanted to meet me. He threatened me indirectly, saying what I was doing was against the government’s will and that I was anti-development. He said that I shouldn’t behave this way to avoid possible circumstances – though he didn’t explicitly say imprisonment. But I did resist. I contacted peers and friends and colleagues, and thanks to them, nothing happened. Maybe I was just lucky. But this kind of situation can happen. Maybe there are other victims not speaking out from fear of reprisals unless there are other witnesses.

What does sustainable development mean for you?

Paubert: For Madagascar, this concept of development is still debatable. My development is not others’ development. You’re in Europe, you have all this infrastructure and so on, but in Madagascar we’re combating famine, community insecurity, food insecurity and so on. There’s a huge gap of needs.

Sustainable development, to me, therefore means life with water to drink, food to eat, schools to teach, and hospitals for everyone, and places for young people to have fun. This are what I think is the sustainable development we need, and for it to be in harmony with the environment, including water, natural resources and so on. Mining isn’t needed – it doesn’t benefit the community or the people. On the contrary, the environment suffers from sedimentation and deforestation, and diseases resulting from mine exploitation.

Elisa: I want to insist on something – how come we’ve injected so much money into Madagascar for years and years, but when we look at the results, we’re going backwards? Madagascar is a country in extreme poverty. There’s a problem in what we understand as models of development, which doesn’t correspond to the population’s needs. It’s not okay that the daily income is less than 3 dollars. It’s really a question of surviving here. The funds that are injected, even COVID-19 funds… barely anyone benefits from this social aid.

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Lorena Cotza
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