Bretton Woods (World Bank and IMF) officials have been assessed on their ability to "push money out of the door". Projects launched, programs got under way are, after all, positive, quantifiable achievements in an individual's career, suspensions and cut-offs negative sign-posts on a CV, their effects incalculable and unclear.
In a small local bank, a bad debt comes back to haunt the man who granted it, as someone must eventually cover that loss. With the Brentton Woods institutions, where the lenders are Western governments, bailout is always assured, a bad debt a sign of good intentions rather than poor assessment. And no one wants to be the official remembered as having 'lost' Zaire, Kenya, Zambia or Tanzania. 'You can never underestimate the inertia of a big institution,' said a diplomat who served in Kinshasa. 'Banks are all about cash flow. They exist to lend money. The World Bank and IMF weren't too bothered where the aid was going or whether it would be repaid. Just as long as it kept flowing.'
Postings are fairly short, which contributes to vacuum where institutional memory should be. One resident representative comes in from Washington, full of enthusiasm, determined to boost lending to what is obviously a desperately poor government. Three years later he is wiser and far more cynical. He has learned to appreciate how deeply 'governance issues' sabotage every project and finds himself, poverty or no poverty, advising Washington to toughen lending conditions. At about that stage, the resident representative is replaced by some bouncy newcomer who cannot understand why the lending portfolio us so slim and suspects his predecessor of losing focus. The whole cycle starts again, to the vast amusement of the host president, who has seen it all before and knows just when to strike.