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AshcroftBy Lord Ashcroft, KCMG PC.

Dear Justine,

Congratulations on your new job. You will, without doubt, find the
Department for International Development “Dfid” far more pleasant than your
previous post in the Department of Transport. Yes, you will spend a lot of time
in the air, giving you perhaps a fresh perspective on Britain’s aviation needs.
But you get to travel the world like a medieval potentate, with politicians in
the developing world keen to tap into your generosity. You will visit some of
the world’s most wonderful nations and see some of the globe’s most stunning
scenary. And you can spray around taxpayers’ money just like Tony Blair and
Gordon Brown did in the days before the banking crisis.

The downside is you may not be very popular when you are in Britain.
At a time when libraries are being closed and people with disabilities face
benefit cuts, there is growing fury over giving away ever-increasing sums to
foreigners. Despite the downturn, your department’s budget is the only one still
soaring, set to grow 50% during the term of the Coalition from £7.8bn
in 2010 to £11.5bn by 2015.

Many Conservatives are horrified by this. They think it morally
wrong to carry on giving away such vast sums abroad – more than £300 per
household – at a time of domestic spending cuts.  Others argue it is politically insane to modernise by
currying favour with Guardian type readers that looks out of touch in current
circumstances. Recent surveys found a majority of Britons now favour a
reduction in aid spending, while there is growing scepticism about the
effectiveness of British aid programmes.


Certainly, our current policies are politically nonsensical. But I
do not fully agree with the argument we should turn our backs on the world’s
poorest people because of tough times at home. I have spent much of my life
travelling in Africa, Asia and Latin America. I have been to 140 countries. I
visited 24 countries with Andrew Mitchell when he was the shadow minister for
DfiD. I have seen the grinding poverty that still exists in many places. If aid
worked, I would endorse the government’s attempts to cosy up to St Bob and
Bono. But I have always approached politics in the same way I approach business
– relying on rigorous analysis of all available evidence. That is why I am
urging you to do the same, since it is clear Britain’s approach to aid is
flawed and self-defeating. So I urge you to recommend to the Prime Minister to
turn off the golden taps and stop flooding the developing world with our money.

This will upset your department’s friends in the aid lobby, who will
no doubt howl in protest about ‘Tory heartlessness’ since their incomes will
suffer. Oxfam, for example, saw funding from Dfid rise from £18.8m to £27m last
year. But for too long Dfid has
acted like a non-governmental organisation itself rather than a wing of
government. Indeed, I hate to say this to you but there is a strong case it
should be folded back within the Foreign Office, as it was before 1997. That
discussion can come later.

Under your predecessors Dfid developed unhealthily close
relationships with the big aid charities and some of the major poverty barons.
The Sunday Telegraph revealed this weekend an astonishing £500m is being paid
to an army of consultants, some earning seven-figure incomes and many of whom
used to work in Whitehall. This demonstrates how the department has so much
money to give away it barely knows what to do with it. So it gives India, a
country with its own aid agency and a space programme, £280m a year and the
European Union £1.3bn annually. As The Daily Mail revealed earlier this year, this cash goes on improving the
Turkish sewer system and implementing Icelandic food safety laws – not the sort
of projects we hear about when politicians proclaim the wonders of aid.

Ministers like to say they get 100 pence of value for every £1 spent
on aid, but even charities themselves admit only about 40% reaches
people on the ground. Few dispute that mountains of money have been wasted over
the years; more than £2bn of aid is thought to have been stolen in Afghanistan
over the past five years alone. The Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo pointed out
that half a trillion pounds went to Africa in Western aid over half a century –
yet economists struggle to point to examples of nations that advanced because
of aid.

In truth, all this aid from Britain and other Western nations
undermines progress. As it is often said, you cannot build democracy on other
people’s money. Aid corrodes civil society and encourages corruption and
conflict. By doling out vast sums to often-dubious foreign regimes, we ensure
they have less need to respond to their citizens’ needs. While we fund schools
and hospitals, rulers can steal from state coffers or spend huge sums on arms,
then win elections using bribery, coercion or violence. In Africa, a study
revealed nearly two-thirds of health assistance is diverted to other purposes,
while development expert Paul Collier found about 40% of the
continent’s military spending was financed inadvertently by aid. In
Afghanistan, experts found aid increases instability by fuelling tensions
between villages.

Quite rightly, the government has attacked targets for distorting
priorities. Unfortunately, it is so focused on the anachronistic and random
target of giving away 0.7% of Britain’s income that it ignores the obvious
failings of its policies. So even declared successes melt away under scrutiny.

To give one example, ministers like to brag how many millions of
impoverished children go to school thanks to British aid. Yet when the
Independent Commission for Aid Impact investigated the spending of more than
£1bn in three east African countries, it found it was failing to improve basic
literacy and maths skills. It was all about hitting targets and creating
headlines rather than examining whether children were learning or teachers
bothering to turn up. No wonder Giles Bolton, Dfid’s former man in Rwanda,
called aid ‘the least effective major public service funded by Western
taxpayers.’

On top of this, while we see the Coalition trying to tackle welfare
dependency at home it happily encourages it overseas. Bear in mind nearly all
Western countries have been pressured into increasing their aid budgets
(although Holland has courageously decided to cut aid despite a predictable
furore). This mean struggling nations must develop vast bureaucracies to
service all their donors and deliver their dictats, instead of focusing on the
needs of their own citizens.

Even worse is the way Britain pours money into the coffers of some
of the world’s most brutal regimes. Ethiopia became increasingly-repressive
under Meles Zenawi, whose death was reported last month – yet Britain gave
hundreds of millions of pounds to his government even after Human Rights Watch
found food aid being used as a political weapon. In Rwanda, British cash funded
an electoral body that prevented President Kagame’s rivals from standing. Such
is the desperation to find a country that proves aid works, we continued to
lavish money on this unlovely regime even after Scotland Yard warned it sent a
hit squad to kill British citizens living in Britain.

Defenders of aid have recently pointed to the astonishing falls in
child mortality across Africa as proof of their policies. They are without
precedent in recent history. But as others have said, what is so striking is
how widespread the falls have been across the continent. In fact, they are down
to improved governance, better health policies and various new technologies. As
The Economist concluded, the broad moral was that ‘aid does not seem to have
been the decisive factor.’

This highly-welcome development shows the speed of change in the
developing world. Six of the fastest-expanding economies on the planet are
African, now home to a growing middle-class, hungry for consumer products. They
increasingly resent the tired old stereotypes perpetuated by development
charities and your department, the damaging images of disease and distended
bellies, the idea they need our salvation. They want tourism and trade, not
dollops of aid. If we remain stuck in the past, obsessed by outdated
narratives, they will happily turn elsewhere – not just to China, but to
countries such as Brazil, India, Mexico, Russia and South Korea.

For all these reasons and so many more, I urge you to jettison the
old-fashioned, neo-colonial approach of your predecessors. Don’t allow your
agenda to be determined by self-aggrandising pop stars and self-interested
lobby groups. If you really care about international development then you will
shift your new department’s focus towards a modern outlook that recognises the
emerging shape of the world.

The last Labour government proved that spending more and more money
does not solve all our problems; indeed, it often makes them worse. The Coalition has accepted this at home; now please accept it abroad. Stop
pandering to the aid lobby, stop parading as modern-day saviours of developing
nations and step into the modern world. Otherwise you do both Britain and the
nations you claim to be helping a gross disservice. It might even be a
politically popular move by the government, an all-too-rare event these days.

Kind regards,

Yours sincerely,

Michael

xx

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