Pauline Latham is the MP for Mid Derbyshire.
A lot is said about international development and the Conservative Party’s position on this matter. But what doesn’t get said enough is how little this question is about aid. Most developing countries do not want to receive aid long-term and with a few policy shifts, many would not need it.
In the year following our return to power (when we rightly kept our DFID spending promise) for every $1 that was going to developing countries, they were losing $7 in illicit financial flows. Many are remarkably rich in natural resources. If we were to improve the way these resources are handled, poorer nations would be the first to celebrate the withdrawal of support from western donors. As one hotelier in Sierra Leone put it in an interview with Tearfund: ‘I’m embarrassed and annoyed that donors should come in to start feeding us. We have everything, [but] unless the top is ready to change, nothing will happen.’
Her words are prescient and point to a distinctly conservative perspective on development, which transcends the usual pro- or anti-aid battle lines. This approach is not to withdraw support that is undoubtedly needed now, but to provide it while implementing changes that will ultimately make such spending completely irrelevant.
Last year saw huge strides in this direction, all led by Conservative leaders – whether David Cameron, Stephen Harper or Angela Merkel. The UK and Germany are implementing the EU legislation requiring oil, gas and mining companies to publish what they pay to foreign governments on a country-by-country and project-by-project basis. And at the G8, Canada made a commitment to implement similar legislation.
Furthermore the UK is joining the EITI, a scheme where companies and governments report how much they paid and were paid, respectively, for the extraction of natural resources. Putting the figures in public helps prevent discrepancies, leading to more of the revenue filtering down to average citizens.
This has already proved very successful in ensuring natural resource wealth can pay for the development initiatives we’re currently funding. Reporting on the money received in Nigeria for example allowed civil society actors to recover a significant amount of underpaid revenue for the state and in doing so helped improved the country’s reputation for foreign direct investment.
Such progress has to be sustained, and the next big opportunity for centre-right parties to show leadership on the issue is this year’s G20 in Australia. In November Prime Minister Tony Abbot can take up the baton we’ve been holding since last year’s G8.
Having completed its EITI pilot, Australia now has the opportunity to take a twin track approach, as the UK has done – join the EITI and also implement rules that would likewise cover companies listed on their stock exchange. With many large extractive companies currently listed in Australian, doing so would be a major boon for global transparency. But a commitment would first and foremost benefit the companies involved: levelling the playing field so all extractives companies are similarly transparent about payments, protecting their reputations internationally and enabling investors to have more information on which to base their decisions.
It would also further this distinctly conservative, fiscally-responsible approach to international development which enables poorer countries to work towards self-sufficiency. Ultimately that’s what we all want to see. British conservatives have spearheaded this trend so far, let’s hope our fellow politicians down-under will do the same.