By Matthew Barrett
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This morning's Guardian carries the news that David Cameron has been asked to chair a United Nations committee to create a new set of millennium development goals. The Prime Minister, who was asked by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, has accepted the task, and now has the opportunity to take a common sense, pro-market approach to international aid.
The appointment would seem to entrench the British commitment thoroughly to spending 0.7% of GDP in international aid, but more importantly, would allow "a significant reshaping of the millennium development goals", according to the Guardian. At present, the goals are:
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- Achieve universal primary education
- Promote gender equality and empower women
- Reduce child mortality
- Improve maternal health
- Combat HIV/AIDs, malaria, and other diseases
- Ensure environmental sustainability
- Develop a global partnership for development
These goals, which were agreed in a conference in 2000, and which are supposed to be met by 2015, decide the aims of international aid channelled through multi-national institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF. With the Prime Minister in charge of deciding the next set of goals, it is thought he will concentrate on modern, realistic aid thinking, with a focus on economic growth and prosperity spurred by the private sector.
The paper quotes a "Government source" as saying:
"We want to refocus the goals to put economic development at the heart. The current goals focus on kids' right to education, levels of infant mortality and so on. They are fine, but does an exclusive emphasis on them really help development? What about new goals to give people property rights or economic rights? Andrew Mitchell thinks there needs to be a better debate about what drives development, and that economic factors need to be given much greater weight than they are right now in the current millennium development goals."
Mr Cameron's chairmanship of the new UN committee is fortunate, and timely, for three reasons.
Firstly, DfID Secretary Andrew Mitchell recently set up a private sector department within the Department for International Development to "help put private sector development and engagement with private enterprise at the heart of everything we do". The Prime Minister will be able to tap into this approach quite easily, one assumes.
Secondly, the paper says the Prime Minister is "likely to want to reintroduce concepts such as conditionality on aid" – in other words, making the delivery of aid dependent on meeting requirements like having a free press, and respecting human rights: two conditions favoured by Government Ministers.
Finally, most big governments in the world are currently centre-right, meaning the Prime Minister is likely to find a receptive audience for his hard-headed and market-driven development goals amongst global leaders. For these three reasons, it seems perfectly possible the Prime Minister will be able to have a genuinely transformative effect on the way we think about international aid.