Opinion: radical approach needed on International Development

International Development must surely be a Ministry which any aspiring cabinet member would view positively.

A Department where there are plenty of opportunities for easy publicity and there is money to be disbursed, with fewer of the potential banana skins of the other departments.

But the announcement that the coalition are to ‘ring fence’ spending on this department should not prevent Liberals from questioning the current minister, Andrew Mitchell, and the orthodoxy concerning how the budget is spent.

One thing which unites Lib Dems of all stripes is a commitment to decentralisation, yet the framework for distributing the International Development budget is skewed towards centralisation.

The Department for International Development will provide the Chinese government with £170m in direct aid this year and also extensively provides aid to the Indian government.

This article does not seek to question whether there are people in China and India who are in need of aid. Eight Indian states after all have more chronically poor people living in them than there are in all of Africa.

But at the same time as we fund these countries’ governments, the people suffer: in China through that country’s colonial and neo-colonial adventures, and in India through the governments expansion of its military industrial complex and its development of nuclear weapons and a space programme.

If it were a British government spending money on such vanity projects at a time when 60% of the population relied on NGOs for health and education, the Lib Dems would be the first to criticise how central government was spending the money.

But it’s not merely a case of redirecting funds from central government to NGOs. DfiD should seek to develop relationships with regional authorities in these countries, and also to encourage micro financing to create a situation where the people themselves have more control and power over how their aid is spent.

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11 Comments

  • Fred Carver 12th Sep '10 - 4:29pm

    This is a difficult issue.There are problems with the Paris Declaration but there is much which is positive there too and for better or for worse we have decided that we will respect it. That does mean respecting the sovereignty of donor countries and their own way of doing things. It is not without its flaws but the Washington Consensus approach didn’t work that well either, I am at least glad that major donor countries seem to have caught up with Alan Whaites’s work in the mid nineties on the damage that can be done by attempting to sideline the state (http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a713660880~frm=titlelink sadly behind a paywall)

    You are right to stress decentralisation which was hugely in fashion last decade but seems to have been unfairly dropped despite a lot of evidence to suggest if you do it right it is far more effective. But decentralisation must not mean side-lining the state – that is very dangerous.

  • I personally don’t think ID should have been ring fenced at all, actually.
    @Jedibeeftrix: Probably not. Britain isn’t involved in a particularly large number of peacekeeping deployments as it stands, and as the skills, training and equipment required are most similar to those of the regular forces it would be stretching it to make them into two different organisations.

  • david thorpe 12th Sep '10 - 10:40pm

    thanks for the feedback all.

    Of course the governments should have a role in all cases, but the role shouldnt be the same in all nations, corruption and system of government being just two of the factors.

  • David Allen 13th Sep '10 - 9:35am

    Jedibeeftrix, you seem to me to be in line with Conservative thinking. Which is, to re-badge that part of the defence budget which covers hearts-and-minds campaigning in places like Afghanistan as “aid”. Thereby neatly improving our performance statistics on “overseas aid”, cutting back and saving expenditure on real overseas aid to meet the genuine needs of poor people who don’t necessarily live in regions of strategic significance, and bolstering our defence effort, all in one fell swoop.

    And you think that’s liberal? And you think the coalition has shown us how to rebadge our principles yet again?

  • Jessica Ottowell 13th Sep '10 - 12:28pm

    I really don’t see A) why we “ring fenced” this or B) why we continue to support nations like China, who not only have more cash than we currently do, blatantly breach human rights and also ruin what industry we have left.

    Perhaps we could cut this back drastically and used that cash to provide new incentives for manufacturing in the United Kingdom, especially in areas hit badly by China (and other emerging nations) like the North East England and Scotland.

  • @Jessica Ottowell: I rather think it’s so that no one puts a picture of Cameron’s face next to a picture of a starving child in Africa. Doubtless some of the money, particularly the money going to India or China, is actually being used to leverage trade negotiations rather than being given out of some genuine humanitarian concern.

  • David Allen 13th Sep '10 - 1:33pm

    David Thorpe, Fred Carver, interesting posts. The rest of you – well’ I’m gobsmacked. Did you join us because the Tories weren’t right-wing enough for you?

  • david thorpe 13th Sep '10 - 2:12pm

    @ jessica.
    I agree we shouldnt be funding the Chinese nation or state, as we are now, but just because the country is notionally rich doesnt mean the people arent notably poor.
    Personally I beleive that the governments of chiona and india shouldnt recieve a penny but NGOs and micrfinancing initiatives there should be funding.
    Its not merely a matter of helping the chronically poor, it may also help to loosen the powers of the central gpvernments in those regions, which will make more people happier opn a broader scale

  • Jessica Ottowell 13th Sep '10 - 3:10pm

    @Thomas Heh, thats most likely true, I do worry that even if we give this cash to NGO’s, it ends up in the same place, the states government back pockets.

    @david thorpe

    As I mentioned. its more that i worry that this funding ends up in the hands of the people who need it the least, also I do worry that we a not doing enough to combat poverty at home.

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