Staff writer

Starry-eyed applicants eager to labor in the cause of official development assistance make Yutaka Nomura wary.

“The actual work,” Nomura, 73, admitted, “isn’t very glamorous.”

The president of Japan International Cooperation System, which was set up in 1989 to give technical support to ODA projects, says it is hours of grunt work — not idealism — that keeps Japan’s ODA machine oiled and working. “It takes hours and hours of detailed work,” Nomura said. “People with high hopes are often disappointed that there are no quick returns.”

The public service corporation gets commissions from the Foreign Ministry and the Japan International Cooperation Agency to choose equipment for projects, train local staff and provide continued technical support, and recently began to monitor the use of assistance after it is given.

While proud of his staff, which he terms “a group of specialists” in diverse fields, including medicine, agriculture and machinery, Nomura remains modest. “Essentially, we research company products, compare specs and prices, and try to help deal with any day-to-day problems with the equipment,” Nomura said in an interview, noting daily followup work is growing in demand.

Following the collapse of the Suharto regime in Indonesia last May, criticism intensified over Japan’s failure to adequately monitor the use of the 195.2 billion yen in aid given to Indonesia in fiscal 1997, some of which was reportedly pocketed by Suharto’s relatives and cronies.

TV programs showed Japanese ODA tractors and medical supplies falling into disrepair from neglect, and critics clamored that the focus of ODA should be more on social programs on a grassroots level, instead of large public works projects, which currently account for about 80 percent of ODA.

The need for more locally oriented projects was recognized 10 years ago when JICS was created, Nomura said. “Responding to new needs raises new issues,” he said.

Smaller-scale aid and supplying food, machinery or medical equipment means “there are a lot of small details, such as transport, maintenance and technical instruction of local staff, and all of these require technical expertise,” he said. “JICA just can’t cover everything,” said Nomura, who served as director of JICA from 1981 to 1983 after working at the Foreign Ministry.

Small in size, with 143 employees and operating costs of 2.8 billion yen in fiscal 1998, JICS has managed to cut through red tape at JICA and the Foreign Ministry, he said. “If we need to send people overseas, we can do that quickly without waiting for approval from above.”

JICS has undertaken small aid projects of about 500,000 yen each on its own initiative since 1991, offering medical equipment, powder milk and other supplies to nongovernmental organizations abroad. “These projects are too small to be under the jurisdiction of JICA,” Nomura said. “But they also are an opportunity for aid on a more personal level.”

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