A View From Westminster: Aid

Historians will judge the David Cameron years as those that led up to the Brexit referendum. But he should also be remembered for leading a coalition government that fizzed with ideas and innovative ways of making our country and the wider world a fairer, better place. Among those ideas which he kicked into play was work on climate change, which threatens some of the most vulnerable countries, the continuing support of the UN Millennium Development Goals and post-2015 Development Agenda, the work we all did on trafficking and human slavery and perhaps most totemic of all, the enshrinement into UK law that henceforth we would spend 0.7% of our Gross National Income on overseas development aid each year. In rough terms that means for every hundred pounds that’s made in the UK, seventy pence go towards Foreign Aid.

Our booming economy means that on current projections by 2021 we could be spending about £14.4 billion, a staggering sum, on aid. Of course, this also highlights a growing problem which is how that aid is distributed and how its effectiveness is monitored.  This is your and my money we are talking about and we have a right to insist the money hits the target and is not wasted on needless bureaucracy and worse.

Unfortunately, in the world of aid, some charities have got a better reputation than others. The UN and it ubiquitous fleet of white Toyotas is something of a joke and held up as an example of entrenched profligacy, and the Department for International Development has at times seemed more anxious to get the money out of the door and less focussed on what happens after it does.  So, whilst there are lessons to be learned from Oxfam, and no doubt there are more stories to come out, that charity will not be alone in being exposed for its behaviour or rather the behaviour of some of its staff.

The problem is exacerbated in that aid and its distribution takes place more often in remote and govern-less places where individuals have little recourse to the law or protection from authority. In this current case, we are talking about Haiti, dragged down over the years by the likes of Papa Doc Duvalier and his Tonton Macoute thugs, corrupt, poor and still recovering from the devastating earthquake in 2010. I visited as a Foreign Office Minister and can testify to the beauty of that strange exotic place. In my opinion, all this exposes a weakness in DFID. It simply lacks the resource to deal with its budget and corporate governance. The Foreign Office does. So, as a smart move Mrs May should ignore calls to scrap the aid budget but instead immediately merge this unwieldy department back into the FCO where it belongs and instruct them to get a grip.