As the debates continues on how to cut Britain’s massive fiscal deficit, a group of senior Conservative members and their supporters in the media have called on the Coalition government led by David Cameron to reconsider the decision to “ring-fence” the international aid budget, because of alleged waste within the Department for International Development and corruption in Africa.
After initially welcoming David Cameron’s decision to “ring fence” international aid, many senior conservative members including parliamentarians and former (powerful) cabinet ministers in the Thatcher and Major governments, think tanks, and Conservative journalists are now shifting their views about the rationale of protecting the International aid budget.
One senior Conservative who seats in the House of Lord said: “You cannot go around talking about the appalling waste in Britain, and push for salary freeze and cuts while protecting waste and corruption overseas.”
According to a Conservative Councillor it is the scale of the cuts across the board and the fact that the government’s austerity drive is picking up momentum that is “forcing a change of view about international aid”.
“We welcome the Secretary of State for International Development’s statement on Sierra Leone and other African countries who are failing to properly utilise incomes from their country’s mineral resources”. But voters are asking many questions about the wisdom of supporting corrupt regimes, while their children can’t have playgrounds here in England?
A former Conservative cabinet minister in the Thatcher government who now sits in the House of Lords said; “If our taxpayers are supporting poverty reduction strategies in mineral wealth countries and the leadership of those countries are not providing the basics for their people, then WE as donors are also failing the poor and bringing our use of taxpayers’ money into massive disrepute.”
Like a shipwrecked sailor on a starvation diet, the British coalition government is advocating the shrinking of the British establishment to its bare bones in its attempt to bring the State’s income into line with its expenditure. And this austerity drive, announced by the British Finance Minister will see the possible sacking of up to two million public service employees, the closures of magistrate courts, children’s playgrounds, and other public services across England.
Indeed, for the first time since the end of the cold war Britain’s military top brass have been called to give account of their budget and asked to thin out, as Defence ministers battle to rebalance services and meet the spending plans cuts of both 25 and 40 percent demanded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Minister of finance)
The British Prime Minister’s pledge to protect the health and international aid budgets was designed to neutralise Labour claims that the Conservatives are “an uncaring” and that they will close the Department for International Development.
But Conservative politicians and independent critics including the Daily Telegraph newspaper (the bible of the Conservative Party) are increasingly questioning whether DfID’s £6 billion a-year budget should be spared-while Departments such as the Home Office could be forced to sack 35,000 police officers, and the Education Department forced to scrap Schools building projects across the country.
In a recent commentary the Daily Telegraph newspaper noted that: “The coalition’s commitment to maintaining the aid budget is even more bizarre. DfID is admittedly a very small department, responsible for less than 1 percent of state spending. But it is hard to see why it should be thought sacrosanct when spending on so many other vital areas is not – particularly when there is plenty of evidence that a significant proportion of our overseas aid is completely wasted.
Ministers are certainly “thinking the unthinkable”, which is good. The task ahead is enormous, and they are proceeding in the right direction, and with commendable resolve. But for their plans to succeed, they will have to tear down the ring-fencing”, the paper concluded.
And one of the unthinkable is the scrapping of “budget support” for poor countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia.
Budget support is a form of quick-disbursing programme aid which is channelled directly to partner governments, uses local accounting systems and is linked to sector or national policies rather than specific project activities. It aims to promote pro-poor growth through encouraging fiscal stability and more equitable and efficient allocation and use of public funds. It offers the potential to address key cross-cutting issues such as public sector reform, gender, and the environment in ways that other aid instruments cannot, and also seeks to make maximum use of local capacity.
And Douglas Carswell, a senior Conservative MP is one of the leading voices pushing for a rethinking of the “ring fence” and the discarding of the “budget support” policy.
In recent months, Mr Carswell has been a prominent advocate calling for greater scrutiny of projects and a re-evaluation of what sort of schemes DfID should fund. He said; “I am in favour of foreign aid, but I am in favour of the foreign aid that helps the people who need it, rather than the quangocrats who are supposed to be delivering it, or the fraudsters that can siphon it off.”
We need to make a number of changes and the first is to stop budget support. A lot of our aid goes into budget support, so it is not project specific, so we are pouring money into the coffers of regimes that are not known for good governance.”
Meanwhile, another group of Conservative parliamentarians and supporters have called for people to be given a direct say in how Britain’s aid is spent in an “X-Factor-Style” competition allowing them to vote for their favourite overseas projects.
By Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay Jnr in London