Britain is prepared to review and cut off aid payments to poor countries with mining wealth that is being diverted by corrupt leaderships, according to the Development Secretary
Andrew Mitchell, whose £7.3 billion budget has been ring-fenced by the Coalition government, said good government in recipient countries with mineral wealth was vital to the integrity of the aid budget.
“Achieving transparency in the exploitation of mineral resources is one of the most fundamental aspects of development,” he said.
“If our taxpayers are supporting poverty reduction strategies in countries with significant resources interests that are not being used in the people’s interest, that will bring our use of taxpayers’ money into massive disrepute.”
The Department for International Development (DFID) has particular concerns over Sierra Leone, where Britain has been closely involved in nation building since a military intervention in 2000.
The government of President Ernest Koroma has been accused of corruption in recent mining deals. “I’m watching particularly carefully how Sierra Leone intends to exploit its mineral [resources]. It is an important issue that requires openness and transparency and if not I am prepared to act.”
As the only major department with an expanding budget, DFID is braced for its activities to come under intense scrutiny over the Coalition lifespan.
The severity of defence cuts has put Mr Mitchell under pressure to devote more funds to conflict zones. A recent leaked email that proposed axing 80 large-scale spending commitments was seized on by charities as evidence that the direction of spending would radically change.
Mr Mitchell rejects the charge that development goals would be downgraded but added that foreign aid has a crucial role in shaping Britain’s national security. “DFID is at the centre of national security. Is Britain’s security best defended by a tank on the ground or training policemen in Afghanistan, or a warship off the Horn of Africa or 100,000 schoolchildren getting a modern education?” he said. “Tackling the problem of instability upstream is about tackling the symptoms of a problem not the outcomes.”
The 54-year-old last week visited Pakistan, which is about to become the biggest recipient of foreign aid.
He said: “The timing of the decision to increase aid just before the floods grants us an opportunity to address Pakistan’s problems to help ensure we won’t have to cope with grave consequences.”
That foreign aid improves conditions at home is the kind of argument that Labour rarely had to mount even as it tripled foreign aid in 13 years in power. But Mr Mitchell knows that the department will have to go further to bear the strains of additional scrutiny.
All 90 national aid programmes have been put under review and Mr Mitchell has pressed ahead with a plan to establish an independent watchdog to evaluate programmes.
“As we cope with the appalling economic crisis the Coalition has inherited, we are going to have to justify our spending 24/7 so British people are proud of our role around the world,” he said.
Culled from the Telegraph by Damien McElroy, Foreign Affairs Correspondent.