Political Promise

Aid: Helping or Hindering?

In Charles Maggs on July 2, 2010 at 6:05 am

By Charles Maggs

Every strategy is the same in DfID...

Last weeks budget saw the promise of departmental spending cuts of 25% across the board, except for two areas. Health care spending is to be ring-fenced, along with international development aid, both Tory pledges in their election manifesto. The former, despite being the biggest area of spending has been chosen presumably for political reasons-Labour can not be seen as the ‘party of the NHS’ Tory spin doctors would have been hoping. The latter however seems somewhat more confusing, why are the Tories so keen to keep up international development spending and more importantly who, if anyone benefits?

The policy centres around a pledge the UK made under the previous administration to raise UK aid spending to 0.7% of GDP by 2013. This would in monetary terms amount to just over £12.5billion (if using 2008 GDP figures) per year. Remember the fierce, but phony Prime Ministerial debates where the importance of £6billion of cuts where exaggerated so greatly? This is a huge sum of money, especially given the current budget deficit we face and its money that is simply given away. I can already hear your cries of execration to the suggestion of cutting government to government aid completely; what about the poor starving Africans? What about Bono?! According to calculations made by Paul Collier (Oxford Professor of Economics) around 40% of development aid is spend on the military, effectively arming and securing the position of bad governments across Africa and the developing World. Not curing hunger or disease, but inflicting it. Take Sudan for example, a nation enduring Africa’s longest running civil war and ruled by a man who took over via a military coup in 1989. According to DFID (Department for International Development) the UK gives £106million to the Sudan, 37% of which goes to ‘governance’, directly propping up a murderous regime. On the same webpage you can see figures on the conflict in the country. 200,000 killed and 2.4million displaced. And the UK government’s response? Give millions of pounds to the people doing the killing. The UK even continues to give aid to China, which two years ago spent £20billion on hosting the Olympics and who’s human rights record and attitude towards free speech would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.

Not only does it arm bad governments, it makes them less accountable. Developing nations have considerably lower tax burdens than developed nations, often as low as 10%. This means the public are less likely to be overly bothered by the actions of the government if they are not contributing to it. Governments rely on aid, not their domestic economy, meaning it is not the people’s money they have been fiddling. Would anyone in the UK have really have cared about the expenses scandal if it wasn’t taxpayers money being squandered?

So why does this policy persist? Its kind of makes sense why David Cameron would like to continue with this policy. Giving money to the poorest nations in the World can only boost his brand of ‘caring Conservatism’, although that brand seems to have taken an almighty beating in the wake of the budget, as much as the conservatives have been attempting to put a very lib dem face on the cuts. It also falls victim to sort-termism. If the UK was to suddenly withdraw £12.5 billion of development aid, or even just the government to government aid, then yes, people would go hungry and yes people would most probably die. But when people get hungry they often rise up. Food shortages in the former Soviet Union was one of factors that led to the collapse of the Berlin wall, and there are certainly no food shortages in Poland anymore.

It is a very hard nosed policy to propose, to effectively let people starve and rise up, but what better time to propose it? The only way to truly end global poverty is to get to the root causes and the biggest cause undoubtedly is bad government. The government coppers are a shambles, in the words of the outgoing chief secretary for the treasury. “there is no money left”. And after 50 years of giving aid and Africa still as poor as ever, surely it’s time for a dramatic change in strategy.

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  1. Interesting viewpoint… I don’t personally agree, but interesting. I agree that we shouldn’t really fund the militaries, but I don’t believe that civil war and famine are blights we should inflict on any state when there are alternatives.

    Just to let you know, direct aid to China has ended as of this latest announcement, I believe.

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