Pierre Landell Mills - International Economist
Pierre Landell Mills sits in the conservatory of his beautiful Dartmouth home, overlooking the River Dart and gives the impression of being thoroughly contented – but his life as an economist working around the world has contained a fair bit of drama, far removed from this idyllic setting.
Born in France to an English father and an emigré Russian mother, Pierre had a pretty dramatic start in life.
“We left Cannes precipitatiously in 1940 just before the Germans arrived, on a sailboat and ended up in North Africa,” he told me, with an enigmatic smile. “We then boarded a troop ship to Britain. We landed in Plymouth and set up house in Thorverton, a pretty village five miles north of Exeter.”
Pierre’s father was asked to restart an old Cornish mine, which contributed to the war effort. It produced tungsten, the metal used to make armour-piercing shells.
A talented student, who was a champion squash player, Pierre went to Cambridge to study economics.
There his love of squash brought a surprising bonus.
“I was supposed to be playing a friendly squash match for my college,Trinity, against a player from Newnham which was a women’s college,” he said. “We stopped after just a few minutes because my opponent was giggling so much, being little more than a beginner. We went for tea instead and got on rather well.”
The Newnham squash player was called Joslin and she was soon to become his wife.
After graduating in Economics Pierre married Joslin and the couple moved to Dar es Salaam. There, Pierre joined the Tanzania Treasury, working on a wide range of economic problems, helping to develop the country’s economy.
Pierre says he loved what he was doing, partly because of his belief in helping countries overcome poverty.
“At Cambridge I was part of a group of young economists who were concerned about colonisation. We wanted to support the newly independent countries. There was a lot of idealism in all of this,” he said.
After two successful years, Pierre received the offer of a lifetime.
“I was invited to become the Director of Economic Affairs in the Botswana government,” he said. “It was a country about to achieve independence and I had the opportunity of renegotiating the Southern African customs arrangements, establish a new currency, set up a national development bank, prepare a national development plan and much more. It was a dream job.”
It was 1966 and Pierre was only 27 – and yet he was essentially in charge of an emerging country’s economy. He relished the challenge.
“It was incredibly interesting and exciting,” he said. “I was pleased to play my part but the real key to Botswana’s success was the brilliant leadership of Seretse Khama. We got on very well. We were all determined to prove that a black-run country could succeed in Southern Africa.”
The English-educated Khama, who had courted huge controversy by marrying a white woman, is still a revered figure in his country, more than thirty years after his death. His government took the country from being one of the poorest in the world to one of the richest in Africa in just 20 years.
Part of that success was the discovery of one of the largest diamond mines in the world in the country – Pierre helped negotiate a path-breaking tax and royalties agreement with De Beers.
“This brought in a huge increase in tax revenues which the Government wisely invested in infrastructure: roads, schools and the health service,” he said. “There was also almost no corruption – this all contributed to the country being a big success.”
After seven years and making “many lifelong friends”, including the second president of Botswana, Quett Masire, who became godfather to their second son, Pierre left to take up another exciting challenge: working for the World Bank in Washington.
“After years in one place it was another fantastic opportunity,” he said. “I started as the economist responsible for Madagascar, the Comore Islands, Seychelles, and Mauritius: I had to spend a month visiting them, three times a year. I couldn’t believe my luck!”
Pierre’s role was to help countries funded by the World Bank to develop their economies for the betterment of their people.
He later was made responsible for the French speaking countries of West Africa – and had to face some daunting moments.
“Often you had to take part in some difficult negotiations,” he said. “I once had a president of an African country – one renowned for his brutality – burst into tears when I told him the bank would not be extending loans to his Government. Soon after I left, he was overthrown.
“On another occasion I was taken to a rally by Sekou Touré, the brutal Guinean dictator who addressed a massive crowd about the iniquities of the World Bank. He pointed to me and told the crowd I was a representative of ‘colonial powers’ bent on ruining the country.”
After a quarter of a century at the World Bank, which included a five-year stint in Bangladesh, Pierre retired. But not to relax. He helped found an organisation to help citizens fight corruption around the world: The Partnership for Transparency Fund.
Becoming the organisation’s first president, he worked to promote its mission for a decade and has now produced a book just published, ‘Citizens Against Corruption’ - to report on their remarkable achievements in the struggle to make public officials more honest and accountable.
“In the roles I have occupied in my life, I often saw examples where corruption undermined the effectiveness of aid programmes,” he said. “I became obsessed by it, seeing the damage it did to people’s lives, especially poor families. It is a sad fact that corruption exists everywhere: where there is a lack of accountability as officials realise they can get away with criminal behaviour.”
The organisation funds groups around the world which promote transparency or fight corruption – and Pierre’s book draws on 200 case studies of ordinary citizens risking everything to root out corruption.
“I think the book has a very important message,” he said. “It shows that that in the many countries where the political leaders have failed their people, citizens are campaigning successfully to hold the officials to account and stop the theft of public money. Aid should go to these groups and not to corrupt governments.”•
First Published July 2013 By The Dart