So asks Chris Blattman:
I seldom fly business myself, even on Bank and UN consultancies, mostly to conserve my project funds for research assistants and survey expenses. My incentives are just right: money I spend on me comes out of money I’d spend making my research projects just a little better. Not so the rest of the agency?
I also hold back from business for another reason: $6000 for a single ticket? When the purpose of your trip is to contribute (however little) to ending poverty, something about that price tag just doesn’t seem right.
The Bankers and UNers have a good response: I’m only there for a week, and I’m much more productive if I can sleep on the plane.
To which I reply: your productivity for a 0.5% of your time is worth 4% of your annual salary?
In some cases, I might add: what development assistance exactly is achieved in a week?
In an age of diminishing aid and global belt-tightening, now seems an opportune time to change this little practice. Mr. Zoellick? Mr. Ki-Moon?
The answer is obvious: of course not. The staff of aid agencies should fly economy class.
Business class flights are not the only expensive perks. Why do World Bank and IMF staff visiting Addis Ababa stay in the Sheraton, which is one of the most luxurious and vulgar hotels in the world, when there are very good hotels down the road for one fifth of the price? Why do international aid agency staff living overseas have such luxurious houses, with allowances for gardeners and domestic staff? Why do some aid agencies pay to fly their belongings to Addis Ababa air freight, when it could come by sea for a fraction of the price? Should staff be allowed to ship cars from home, at public expense, duty free, and then sell them locally at a profit?
A good start would be to make all this transparent. As we are seeing with the row over MPs’ expenses in the UK, sunlight is a good disinfectant. If all these expenses were individually and separately itemised and published, I suspect many aid agencies would soon decide that they are difficult to defend.
The senior staff of the Canadian aid agency, CIDA, are required by Canadian policy to publish their travel and hospitality expenses. Here are the returns for the first quarter of this year. That’s a good start. But I’d like to even more detailed figures published for all staff of aid agencies. I suspect quite a lot of this stuff would stop quite quickly.