Mr Bogdan Lucian Jora Research Fellow at the Romanian Academy (The Institute of International Relations) and Visiting Fellow, EU Centre in Singapore
21 Apr 2010
SR 901, Level 9, 11 Slim Barracks Rise, NTU@one-north campus, Executive Centre, Singapore 138664
3.00pm – 5.00pm
Report on Research Seminar
Dr Lucian Jora explained the framework of EU Assistance for Development projects in Central and Eastern Europe, and the variances between how aid was intended to be disbursed and the difficulties it faced during implementation, mirroring the difference between the drafted theory and the real practice. He shared from his personal experience as a Project Evaluator working for the Romanian government. He clarified that the type of EU funding for development he would refer to would be EU Structural Funds and within the EU Structural Funds the European Social Fund, namely those funds dedicated for Human Resources Development. These were what he considered the biggest EU investment in its own future. Like Singapore, the EU saw it important to develop human resources because the EU is moving towards a knowledge based and services economy. He highlighted the policies as applied in Romania, Poland and Hungary because these countries have substantial populations and collectively represented the largest enlargement into the EU with the biggest systemic and social challenges. At the same time, around half of the populations in these countries are rural.
The EU priorities for funding Human Resources Development projects were 1) education and training to develop a knowledge based economy, particularly through graduate and postgraduate education, 2) linking lifelong learning and the labour market, 3) raising the adaptability of workers and enterprise 4) modernizing public employment services, and 5) promoting active employment, social inclusion and technical assistance.
In what he called an “incredible” situation, he said massive amounts of funding were available for such projects, but up to 90% of available funding was not accessed because the lack of proper easy to understand information, trained personal and eligible projects, as well as a project contracting phase that took too long and lost credibility in the process. Integrity was an issue too. Dr Jora commented that some projects were faked, with small target groups been used as a “mass of maneuver” in order to obtain EU money in the form of big salaries for overinflated management teams. Often the proposed projects came from the same communities who already benefited from various massive funding schemes in the last two decades, not because those communities would be the most in need but they knew the complicated tehnicality of applying for funding . The monitoring of the implementation process as designed so far lacked quantifiable data to justify the sustainability and performance of some projects.
As for lessons for ASEAN and possibly Singapore, he said it was important to have sufficiently diverse and technical expertise to evaluate different project proposals. For instance, a biologist may not be able to assess an astronomy or sociological project. He said project evaluators would also need to watch for and get a careful accounting of where the funds went to, particularly in terms of salaries. Also, the development aid framework should not assume that target states would have more or less similar administrative capability and controls as say the EU-15.
Dr Jora highlighted the positive examples such as Portugal where the authorities offered consultancy to target most in need applicants and perhaps this was why Portugal had the highest structural fund for human resources development absorption rates. He said HRD guides could include best practices of what not to do and what to do, with clear examples, and be adapted to the local administrative environments. If solid administrative structures are lacking, then central governments would need to take the lead role.
EU-Singapore cooperation for development with an emphasis on HRD is in an incipient stage. Nonetheless, the opportunities are enormous and Singapore has the potential to become a hub for EU human resources development assistance not only for other ASEAN countries but in the “global village”, also for the EU itself and the near aboard area- South and Eastern Mediterranean area, and Commonwealth of Independent States. Finally, the involvement into the EU HRD projects may be of a potential interest for Singaporean individuals or consultancy companies with expertise in HRD in particular, such as in new curricula development, training programs, doctoral and post-doctoral cutting edge research. However because the Singaporean legal entities are not directly to be partners in EU SF financed projects they may need to open representative branches in the EU to become EU legal entities. Singaporean individuals may propose project ideas directly to EU eligible applicants- NGO’s or Universities- and then be employed as individual experts for the implementation of the projects.