Mystery man who is so funny, you cry
Dr. Kurtz is the Executive Director of Hand Relief International. It is one of the most vile, self-interested, over-priced, over-funded, and ineffective aid agencies this side of the beltway. (It would be preposterous to include the bandits inside the beltway. That’s an entirely different league.) Kurtz and his minion “Nathan the intern”, exist merely to skim fat consulting contracts off the donor agencies while expensing the mini-bar bill at the nearest Serena.
So, why do we like him so much? Well, other than the fact that we seem to frequent the same watering holes, Kurtz is a satirical character. The mystery author is delivering a brilliant evisceration of the aid industry and its more well-paid denizens. If you’ve spent any time in Kabul, or Port au Prince, or Monrovia, or if you read anything about aid missions, then you instantly recognize Dr. Kurtz. It is impossible to board a Merpati flight to Dili without bumping into a dozen just like him.
These consultants are not a mere nuisance, they are a big business. When PDT did an analysis of aid spending in Afghanistan, many observers could not believe that only 37% of donor money was entering the local economy. But when you add up the $1000/day consulting contracts, the $300 night hotel rooms, the $6500 business class tickets, it’s easy to understand why so few dollars actually arrive in-country.
And how do these high-priced consultants help? They don’t. An old friend, Emilia Pires, was once the aid-coordination liaison for the East Timorese government. She kept on her desk a tall pile of reports, assessments, and strategic plans. On the top of the precarious stack was a place card with a total price of $X millions of dollars printed in bold large font. When a foreign donor would come to see her and happily announce that his government had just approved $400k to fund a team of advisors who would be “evaluating the sustainable grass roots strategies for empowering gender-based solutions for economic reform”, Emilia would smile, point, and ask them how many inches it would add to her pile? She was not popular among donors.
And this is why Dr. Kurtz, even though we have no idea who he is, is a hero here at PDT. Kurtz is shedding some strong light on the scavenging flocks of aid vultures who are largely responsible for the disastrous state of the development industry. And he is very very funny as he does it.
Just try to forget, as you read his blog, that the failures of the aid industry contribute to the fact that 26,000 children under the age of five die every day to largely preventable causes. Or 54 in the three minutes it took you to read this.