For many in politics – not just those on the Left – support for Overseas Aid is one of a bundle of causes that show how caring you are. The more unequivocal the enthusiasm for Overseas Aid the more caring a person is deemed to be. This means that Aid supporters often deem it prudent to remain silent about any failings – or to be in denial about them. To state what should be obvious: it is not true compassion to allow billions that could and should be spent alleviating poverty to instead be wasted – or spent in ways that are harmful.
In the Daily Telegraph this morning a report says:
“Serious questions are raised today over hundreds of millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money being ‘wasted’ on climate change projects such as an Ethiopian wind farm and Kenyan solar power plant.
“A Telegraph investigation shows little benefit so far from a £2 billion foreign aid programme to tackle climate change that was established eight years ago.
“One scheme, costing £260m of UK taxpayers’ money, has produced only enough renewable electricity to power the equivalent of just 100 British households – about the size of a typical street.
“Projects including solar parks in Kenya and Mali, a rubbish-burning power plant in the Maldives and wind farmer project in Ethiopia are all earmarked for funding from the scheme.”
The £630 million Scaling Up Renewable Energy Project (SREP) has had £268 million from the British taxpayer but “to date, just three SREP-funded projects – two in Honduras and one in Nepal – are producing either green electricity or improving access to it. A further 20 approved projects are not making any positive impact, according to an annual report published at the end of last year.” Of the Climate Technology Fund which includes a contribution of £1.2bn from the UK Government – “only 26 projects out of 70 approved schemes under the CTF have reported any benefit. The vast majority of the projects do not record any figures at all.”
Then we had the Mail on Sunday yesterday which reported:
“Britain is pumping huge sums of foreign aid into Palestinian schools named after mass murderers and Islamist militants, which openly promote terrorism and encourage pupils to see child killers as role models.
“A Mail on Sunday investigation has found 24 schools named after Palestinian terrorists and evidence of widespread encouragement of violence against Israel by teachers, with terrorists routinely held up as heroes for schoolchildren.
“Pictures of ‘martyrs’ are posted on school walls, revolutionary slogans and symbols are painted on premises used by youngsters, sports events are named after teenage terrorists and children are encouraged to act out shooting Israeli soldiers in plays.
“Head teachers openly admit flouting attempts by British and European donors to control the curriculum at schools. They print overtly political study aids for pupils, some even denying the existence of Israel, and teachers boast of encouraging pupils to emulate teenage attackers killed in the most recent wave of terrorist attacks in the region.
“One senior teacher from a prominent West Bank school, asked what he would say to a pupil threatening to attack Israelis, told this newspaper: ‘I would tell them go in the name of God.’
“This is all despite a review of the hundreds of millions of pounds in donations poured into Palestinian public services last year, which came after Western donors raised concerns about the indoctrination of children.”
The report added:
“This year alone Britain is giving £25 million to the Palestinian Authority (PA). It will help fund salaries for 30,000 officials in West Bank health and education.
“The EU, which gets one-tenth of its aid budget from Britain, is donating £272 million. More than half of this goes to public servants in education, health and social services in Gaza and West Bank.
“Both the Department for International Development and the EU say the use of such money is carefully vetted by accountants.”
Naturally those who wish to scrap Aid spending will trumpet the vindication they feel these revelations provide. But those who have seen evidence of the humanitarian benefits that Aid spending can bring should be the most indignant of all. They should not just shrug and decide that as the 0.7 per cent of our GNI is spent on Aid that means mission accomplished.
For instance the Conservative Friends of International Development should cease to serve as apologists for DfiD. Rather than simply backing spending they should give consideration to how the spending could be more effective. So far the only mention of value for money seems to be in the context that DfiD has already resolved its problems. That does not strike me as plausible.
Sometimes a rigorous approach will mean taking on critics of Aid. For instance it is right to allow the private sector to compete to deliver Aid programmes – if a firm can do so more effectively than a state or charitable bidder then it should be allowed to do so.
But that rigorous approach will also mean that if programmes are identified that are working well and deserve to be expanded than ineffective programmes must be ended in order to allow their spending to be better directed.
As Conservatives we should talk far more about how the free market and free trade have made astonishing progress in poverty eradication. The challenge with Overseas Aid is to ensure that it assists the process rather than gets in the way. Brexit will mean we can take back control of that share of our of Aid spending that the EU has been spending for us – very ineffectively. That is an opportunity. But there also needs to be a change in mentality on all our Aid spending – that of facing up to criticism rather than diving for cover.
David Cameron is continuing to pursue his interest in this subject. That is welcome. He is articulate and sincere. But to win the argument it is no use pretending the system is working fine at present. It’s failings are too glaring for that. The debate needs to shift to how the programme can be reformed so that those of us who are paying for it can have the confidence that our money is making the world a better place.