Archive | January, 2013

Manufacturing Realities

28 Jan

Incentives for manufacturing realities – The EU funds for Roma

I argued in the past[1] that most of the EU money focused on social inclusion of Roma is wasted due to some basic and arguably appalling failures in the way the EU funds are designed, distributed and monitored.  I concluded that the existing European and National mechanisms meant to deal with Roma social inclusion are dysfunctional and without serious reform will result in an increased exclusion and anti-Gypsyism within the European Union as well as disappearance of Roma civil society.

These failures are a logical result of significant incentives towards “manufacturing realities” of the existing stakeholders in the Roma Social Inclusion. These incentives are rarely if ever discussed and remain unaddressed.

In what follows I will examine some of these incentives

  1. Incentives for big  (over 2.5 million EUR) and medium size (over 500.000 EUR) European projects targeting Roma social inclusion.

The bigger those projects are the higher the risks for major errors. Big amounts of public money require tough regulations that lead to inflexibility and high administrative costs. Lack of Roma expertise at the level of design as well as the limited professional administrative capacities[2] within the Roma organisations make such type of project more detrimental than useful when it comes to the social inclusion of Roma. Regardless, the main incentives for the stakeholders are for requesting and arguing for “big money projects” as explained next.

Member States with large Roma populations have poor absorption rates of EU Structural Funds in general. When it comes to Roma social inclusion the absorption rates are simply, dreadful. Pressure from the European Commission as well as from the national politicians to improve significantly the use of EU Structural Funds force bureaucrats at the national level to focus on big projects as those are the fastest route to better absorption rates. The reduced administrative and professional capacity within the governments, local administrations and management authorities works also as an incentive towards pushing even more for these big projects[3].

European Commission(EC) itself has very poor expertise on the Roma subject and often receives undeserved pressure from practically all other stakeholders to come up with consistent results proving progress in the process of Roma social inclusion. The EC prefers large projects as those require much less work for its own bureaucracies, look much better when reporting and most importantly moves responsibility from the EC to the Member States or other stakeholders.

Other intergovernmental institutions such as UNDP, World Bank, OSCE, Council of Europe, UNICEF have also a strong incentive to support such projects as that significantly reduce the competition for EU funding. The administrative capacity for dealing with big funds of these organisations is incomparably better than the capacity of the Roma NGOs. Some of these intergovernmental organisations would be unable to continue their Roma or social inclusion programs in absence of EU funding for Roma. This can be applied also to large international NGOs.

The strongest national Roma organisations have significant incentives to support such projects as they are net beneficiaries of such funding (very good salaries, possibility to take part in many EU level meetings that come with great per-diems, increase visibility at the EU and national level etc.). Opposing such funds could significantly weaken their influence and visibility but also dent their legitimacy among Roma communities. Not wanting or being unable to access the EU money is perceived by the majorities and Roma alike as a waste of a great chance to infuse important financial resources to poor Roma communities.

Big and large EU funded projects have no or very limited possibilities for errors and adaptability. From the time of setting the priorities that makes possible the financing until the project is implemented an average of three to five years will pass.

Such a time-period is in strident discrepancy with the reality in the most difficult Roma communities and Roma ghettoes where significant changes happen in this three to five years time-frame. These type of situations would require flexible funding and highly adaptive and efficient organisations ( which is not at all the case of Roma organisations at this moment).

Changes in such EU projects are difficult and almost always include financial penalties.

Due to the large funds even small percentages of financial penalties for such funds will bankrupt a Roma organization or small to medium local administration. These are precisely the most important stakeholders if to have a successful social inclusion process. At this moment the overwhelming majority of ESF funds in Romania are forced to pay financial penalties.

Such huge funds also attract the attention of criminal networks or corrupted politicians and increase significantly the risk of corruption.

The best type of EU funding up to this moment were the small to medium ( under 500.000 EUR) EC administered institutional grants. Those grants allow organisations to exist and decide themselves about the priorities they will follow. Such grants are very much needed at the national level and will be discussed in a future paper.

  1. Incentives for fake reporting, yes-organisations/people, sugar-coating and conformity

EU funding for Roma Social Inclusion is delivered through one of the most complicated and deep bureaucracies. There is a Commissioner responsible for Roma issues, at least one director general, a good number of directors, deputy directors and heads of units and tens of bureaucrats in different units of the European Commission that are responsible for Roma projects financed by the EU. At the national level there is a minister, a number of secretaries of states, directors of Management Authorities (MAs) and bureaucrats working for the MAs.

Those who implement the projects need to go through most if not all the different structures in order to report significant problems. It is absolutely normal that those problems will be sugar coated by each of the layers of the bureaucracies (at least five) in order to make them look good. The end result is an overwhelmingly positive but mainly manufactured reality.

Bureaucratic careers everywhere are generally not built on recognizing and addressing failures of the system. When it comes to Roma issues there is significant pressure from the top bureaucracies (that are in fact politicians) to present positive outcomes of policies and funding at both the European and National levels. These incentives are the reasons of significant embellishments in the reporting of EU funded projects. Sometimes the embellishments lead to an overall impression that is stridently dissonant with the reality on the ground.

Conformity is unfortunately another major problems. The very diplomatic positively biased reports of the EU institutions create a culture of conformity that is to put it bluntly -scary (due to the scale). It could be seen as an accurate replication of the famous Asch experiment in conformity. The Asch experiment proved that majority pressure acts as a very powerful incentive to incredible self-deception and conformity. As leading figures at the government and EU level require positive results it is just normal that there is a strong pressure on bureaucrats and NGOs to sugar coat results.

Fake- reporting is just the next step. The Orwellian doublespeak language used in the EU official reports together with the previous explained incentives for positive results lead to a widely spread practice of writing and accepting fake-reporting.

Yes – people and organisations have much more to gain than their counterparts.

People that work at the grassroots level have very little reasons to be positive considering the situation of Roma. Their criticism is counterproductive for their own organisations as reports of failures need to be investigated, produce financial penalties and disturb the comfort zones of bureaucracies. Existing incentives are against criticism or recognizing failures.

Innovative approaches despite being very much encouraged at the level of rhetoric are in fact disliked and discouraged. Most of the times social innovation does not fit the existing rules, legislation, standards, structures and institutions. Moreover and equally important it doesn’t fit much and generally at all the lines of funding therefore social innovators end up exposing themselves to higher risks and forced to work on or with much less money that people and organisations ready to accept the existing rules and hierarchies.

These yes-people and organisations are in fact in the overwhelming majority rewarded socially and financially (as they will continue to access the EU funds and receive praise for their work at the highest levels) – it is just exceptional when a critical and innovative individual or organization manages to get recognition.

Changing the existing flawed paradigm requires significant effort and is a serious discomfort for the existing bureaucratic systems. Roma Social Inclusion needs innovation, flexibility and fast reactions – none of these are in reality either encouraged or possible through EU Structural Funds.

  1. The need for simplistic and miraculous stories

Simple, cheap, amazingly efficient and up-scalable projects are exceptional in general and highly improbable in the existing conditions of the EU funding. Most of the times the stories of such amazing projects are nothing but heavily embellished or altogether imagined stories.

Not having clear or any proof that a project does good or bad (which is the case for most of the EU Roma financed projects) should be a major concern if wanting to make EU funds more efficient. As finding such proofs requires serious evaluations that would most probably produce embarrassing results for the people that designed and approved the projects – they are highly unlikely. Nice and well sugar-coated fairy-tales are the preferred choice despite their well known toxicity on long term.

The European Commission risks to make the exact same mistakes as the Communist countries where similar incentives lead to reported achievements that had very remote and rarely logical links with reality.

Superficiality of some of the top bureaucrats and Commissioners that require short bullet points solution for everything including the Roma social inclusion is also a mistake remindful of Communist times. The fact that this practice is encouraged rather than criticized should be another reason for trying to avoid catastrophic mistakes of ex-Communist bureaucracies.

Things can change. There are many bureaucrats in Brussels that see most of the things the same way I do. The fact that leadership both at the EU and National Level is more inept than brilliant should not be a stimulus for conformity but rather a stimulus for change.

European Institutions should be mindful of castrating courage, innovation and initiative of its own smart and hard-working human resources (this is indeed the case with a good number of bureaucrats in Brussels). Responsible Commissioners and Director Generals need, at least in the case of Roma social inclusion, to understand that arrogance, encouraging subordinates to pay lip-service, be yes-persons and sugar-coat realities including praising ineptitude are what many perceive to be main characteristics of senior management within the European Commission.

[2] There were no national Roma NGOs before EU Funds to be available to administer more than 500.000 EUR and 99% of Roma NGOs worked with budges under 75.000 EUR.  Nowadays there are tens of Roma organisations administering budgets of millions while there were no major ( if any)improvements in their managerial and administrative capacities

[3] This was explained to the author by the Romanian Minister of European Affairs Ludovic Orban

Euro-Narnian Basic Principles

21 Jan

Some basic principle of successful Euro-Narnian* Roma projects

*Euro-Narnia is a parallel world ruled over by the mighty Baros(o)lan (Aslan is the ruler on Narnia) whose inhabitants discuss in strange and wonderful terms remedies for the Roma problem and not only.Any resemblance between Euro-Narnia and European Commission is certainly, purely accidental. Seniors can be seen similar to heads of units or directors. Royals are same level as Commissioners. Ministries are similar with Directorates Generals (DGs) at the European Commission.Peasants are the Roma.

  1. Every single Euro-Narnian financed Roma project is magnificent and represents “significant progress”. As the adoption of the Euro-Narnia anti-discrimination framework was officially presented as a “quantum leap forward in the fight against discrimination”[1] it is just normal that Roma projects could be seen as giant leaps forward.

Rumour has it that even Euro-Narnians started to be concerned about this overwhelming progress, a logical result of only[2] positive practices in the social inclusion of Roma. This massive progress triggered a series of unprecedented Quantum Leaps forward that ultimately led to a curving of time and created an alternative universe at a time prior to the First Quantum Leap. That is why the Royals, Seniors, and most Euro-Narnians live in an universe (called Quantum Leap Forward Universe) where there is an advanced state of inclusion and progress, while the rest of us are stuck in the past, where abject exclusion and anti-Gypsyism are still the norm.

There are a number of Quantum Leap Forward Principles to deal with these parallel universes that come as job requirements for Royals and Seniors:

*Words used and proposals made by Royals or Seniors should have as limited as possible correspondence with the facts as seen by peasants residing in the above mentioned parallel universe.

*It is to be expected that peasants will perceive major strategies and speeches as logical fallacies due to the fact that they live in a different Quantum Leap period. Their concerns are to be snubbed with the most Royal authority.

* Royals and Seniors need specials skills in ignoring the main issues in order to make what might seem (due to the Quantum Leap delay) completely irrelevant points proving what is rarely accurate, mostly embellished and sometimes completely imagined progress of Euro-Narnian work on Roma issues.

  1. Innovative, flexible, simple, cheap, easy to replicate and scalable methods to achieve progress and successful projects are the norm within the remarkable work of Euro-Narnians.

These methods involve the magical power of thought and will of the Euro-Narnian Royals and Seniors and their peers in the national governments. Let me give you a simple example.

Let’s pretend there was a major failure of a 30 million euro Euro-Narnian funded projects. Let’s imagine this happened due to a mix of the unpredictability of the dynamics of Roma ghettoes and communities, changes in the overall economic situation, the incompetence of those in charge to implement and oversee the projects, and the rigid design of the initial projects that did not allow changes when they were needed. Such failure, if public, would surely upset the Royals and Seniors of the country where the project was implemented and would result in significant financial penalties. This end result would embarrass the Euro-Narnians and might lead to some delays in advancements of mighty Seniors to much deserved better positions (Baroslan forbid!).

The way to make sure this doesn’t happen is thoroughly innovative and widely applied. By flexibly, simply and carefully implementing changes of wording success can be achieved. Instead of calling such a project a failure, we call it a “lesson learned.” We dismiss any attempt to call it a fiasco by explaining that it is in fact a key step towards FUTURE great achievements. Who can possibly know (besides the Queen of Gypsies, Baroslan and the Mighty Euro-Narnian Gods) what amazing positive things could result from such a “lesson learned” in the FUTURE. Who can claim that a “lesson learned” might not result in magnificent progress?

This method is cheap, easy to replicate and has been successfully scaled up as the main policy of Euro-Narnia when it comes to Roma.

(In vulgar language, this magic method is called doublethink and was well defined by Orwell[3].)

  1. Innovation, constructive criticism and adaptability to challenges at the grassroots are all encouraged, respected and rewarded. In-depth knowledge of a particular circumstance (including hands-on experience or a “worm’s eye view[4]”) is also required in order to achieve success.

There is an overall agreement that innovation is a laborious process and involves the risk of failure. Euro-Narnian Royals are inspired by their Gods, therefore there is no need of innovation whatsoever in Euro-Narnia (besides the already amazing doublethink and doublespeak[5]).

Regardless, in an act of stunning generosity, Euro-Narnia encourages innovation in others. This is done mainly through the most pragmatic and efficient Euro-Narnian mechanism: rhetoric. There are also some other more subtle encouragements that will be analysed in what follows.

Peasants and disgusting independent academics agree that Structural Funds for Roma social inclusion are designed poorly and rigidly. These vermin do not understand the magic ways of Euro-Narnia: these funds were clearly designed as such in order to stimulate innovation; it’s well known that those suffering and struggling come up with the best solutions to survive.

A critical and innovative organisation is highly rewarded in Euro-Narnia. It’s work is always doubted, carefully investigated, and questioned, as a way to help the organisation achieve even better results. As innovation rarely involves respecting rigid rules (such as those for Euro-Narnian Structural Funds) or paying lip-service to important Euro-Narnian institutions, these innovative organisations often have the privilege of paying significant financial penalties – a privilege which is fundamental for their healthy development.

It is a well-known fact that Euro-Narnian bureaucrats just Before the Last Quantum Leap hated their comfort zones and loved to be criticized. Questioning poor decisions of Seniors and Royals significantly improved chances for fast career advancement for lower rank Euro-Narnians. Most Euro-Narnian Seniors and Royals in charge of Roma issues were known to enjoy spending significant amounts of times in Roma ghettoes or isolated Roma communities, where innovation was much needed.  Neighbourhoods featuring rat-infested apartment buildings, abject poverty, high risk of migration, drug addiction and petty criminality were the preferred locations for observing innovation by the Seniors and Royals alike. Such places became so full of Euro-Narnians that most of the poor inhabitants looked for refuge, and with the help of Euro-Narnian Gods and the good will of Royals, ended up in 4 and 5 starts hotels mainly in the capitals of Euro-Narnia.

This is the ONLY reason why we now see so many meetings in places that do not make sense for vermin peasants and pedantic academics. Nowadays Roma meetings happen, appropriately, in these hotels and Euro-Narnians are unwillingly stuck with luxurious locations when it comes to study and talk about innovation in Roma communities just to prepare themselves for the times when Roma in their overwhelming majority will leave in those locations. They already do but the parallel universe in which this happens is not yet accessible to vermin questioning intellectuals and us – the unholy peasants.

Roma ghettoes and isolated communities are dynamic and unpredictable; working there requires adaptability and fast reactions. Such adaptability to fast changes is something much loved and well managed by the highest echelons of Euro-Narnia (and also by most existing bureaucracies) in the Quantum Leap Forward Universe. It is only that peasants are incapable to see this Universe ( Baroslan bless the Euro-Narnians)that brings completely erroneous nasty rumours about the ineptitude and rigidity of some Seniors and Royals.

Roma organisations that are innovative or critical rarely manage to access Structural Funds. Staff members of these organisations work for less pay and are subjected to higher risks than their colleagues accessing Structural Funds. This is indeed an important reward for innovation, as the situation of their colleagues (from organisations that are not innovative or critical) is appallingly worse. Staff at those organisations have to do exhausting grassroots work, namely writing reports or running useless repetitive trainings that pay obscenely well. Such organisations have to endure the harsh conditions of high-level meetings in 4 or 5 star hotels and expose themselves to the very high stress of boredom and cognitive dissonance. Doublethink and doublespeak remain the main causes.

There are some other marvellous Euro-Narnian principles and many examples of amazingly sensational incredibly great positive practices in the Roma field. But more about those in the next chapters of Euro-Narnia.

[1] EuroNarnian Commission on the introduction of Article 13

[2] Despite the evidence otherwise, it is still impossible to find official records of any failed Roma project.

[3] Orwell defines doublethink as “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary.”

[4] See Muhammad Yunus –Nobel prize winner on what is needed for success in development work.

[5] See George Orwell, 1984.