With reports of waste at the Department For International Development (DFID) which saw millions of pounds poured down the drain by the last Labour government, rather than on helping to fight poverty in Africa, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron is under serious pressure to break his pledge to protect the international aid budget from the sharper spending cuts announced by the British government in June’s emergency budget.
After the recent elections in May, International Development and Health-Care were ring-fenced by the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government from the 25 percent spending cuts announced by the British Finance Minister George Osborne in June.
The pressure is coming from a growing body of Conservative parliamentarians and senior civil servants who have advanced a powerful call for DFID to scrap dozens of overseas aid projects including funding to support free healthcare and to put more children in school in Africa.
An email leaked to the British Press reveals that Andrew Mitchell, the Secretary for International Development has agreed to honour just eight of a long list of promises made to countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Southern Asia
In another leaked memo to the Secretary for International Development, senior DfID officials admitted that many of the projects, including improving water and sanitation in Africa and Southern Asia had “strong public backing”. Others, such as providing support for peacekeeping and the clearing of landmines, were categorised as having “individual vocal support.”
The memo marked “Submission to Ministers”, Nick Dyer, Director of Policy at DfID, proposed retaining only 19 commitments, including funding for 12 million malnourished children in six countries, securing an international arms trade agreement and improving climate change.
He advised ministers to keep quiet about the plans to scrap the 100 other projects, saying “We do not recommend any proactive external communications”.
Reacting to the leaked memo, British civil service leaders warned ministers that cancelling a third group of projects, including a £1 million a year trade scheme and a climate change strategy, was likely to “upset” other government departments.
The Obama administration and the international charities, including the charity run by the billionaire Bill Gates to tackle tropical diseases would also “argue we should keep some of these,” British civil service leaders warned.
But the memo to DfID ministers advice that cancelling 14 projects including funding for United Nations peacekeeping and the creation of low carbon jobs was “unlikely to be noticed,” in the coming months.
A report published by DfID shortly after the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government came to power in May this year, found that a quarter of its projects do not “achieve” or even “largely” achieve their aims-even by the assessment of DfID staff involved in the schemes.
Currently, £7.3 billion goes to fund DFID every year and the Coalition has pledged to increase spending on aid in order to meet a United Nations target of 0.7 percent of national output by 2013. Last year, DfID spent $463 million on projects that were mentioned in the published report which came out in July 2010.
After the report was published DfID admitted to inaccuracies in many of the self-assessments of its initiatives-suggesting that the true proportion of failing projects could be as high as one-third.
Expecting angry reactions and criticism at home and abroad, the memo set out “defensive lines” for DfID staff to take if they were challenged about the cancellation of the schemes, including saying that the projects had been reviewed in order to “fit with new ministerial priorities.”
One of those new priorities is to boost aid funding to Afghanistan by 40%, in order to help pay for projects aimed at speeding the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
And apart from African countries that will suffer if the British coalition government succumb to those calling for cuts in aid, countries like Russia and China are already expected to experience cuts in UK aid as these countries are now considered economic powerhouses in their own right’s It is understood that the review will also look at cutting or ending aid to a number of countries in South America and Eastern Europe.
ByWinston Ojukutu-Macaulay Jnr in London