LCID reaction to Report on Labour’s Education record

A Nigerian teacher in training. Photo credit: Chris Morgan, DFIDThe difficulty of being part of a political party is that sometimes you stand accused of being too tribal, too colour-blind, too willing to defend the party line. LCID it is not beyond criticising and critiquing the Labour Party’s own policy and record, but we will defend it passionately when we think it has come under attack unfairly.

Just before Christmas, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee released a report criticising Labour’s record on education spending.

As the report pointed out, DFID has focused on educational programs to improve and expand state primary school networks in 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia most of these have increased school enrolment from 50% or even lower to 70 to 90% and 14 on schedule to meet the UN MDG on education by 2015.

There is of course a major challenge for all those committed to education for all to ensure that the increase in the quantity of children receiving education is matched by an increase in the quality of education that they receive.

But despite huge and rapid increases in school enrolment in several countries supported by DFID, there has been no reduction in the levels of learning achievement – Tanzania is a case in point. That counts as a major achievement given that most new entrants are not only very poor but also often malnourished.

In addition, Labour and the DFID actively supported strategies aimed at strengthening achievement levels in countries such as Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, and Bangladesh.

The criticisms laid out in this report must not be used as an excuse to reduce the amount of aid our country spends on supporting children to learn. Kids kept out of school by poverty tend not to learn very much.

In terms of the allegations regarding the Kenyan government, we know that the Labour team at the time took pretty tough and rapid action and were very careful with any subsequent budget support to Kenya.

Most importantly, whilst improvements can be made to UK aid, this report must not be used as an excuse to reduce budget sector support. Without national government-run health and education systems, free at the point of use, countries will never get the healthy educated workforce they need to lift themselves out of poverty (and reduce their need for aid).

Our national health service is the envy of the world – UK aid should support countries to develop their own national health services and national education systems. Before the election, we and others including UNESCO warned that Mitchell and the Conservatives favoured private education initiatives including vouchers schemes in their manifesto – let us be clear, the overwhelming evidence across the world is that public health and education services deliver best for poor people – and this report must not be used to try and justify otherwise.

Harriet’s first speech outlines some critical areas for international development

Harriet Harman speaking at ActionAid

This article was originally posted on Left Foot Forward.

This morning, shadow international development secretary Harriet Harman gave a speech at ActionAid headquarters in London. Marking International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Ms Harman outlined six key priorities for the future of international development:

1. Realising the 0.7 per cent GNP pledge for aid;

2. Strengthening women’s rights around the world;

3. Support for remittances (money sent by people in developed countries to their family members in their country of origin);

4. Trade, tax and global growth;

5. The role of development in conflict prevention; and

6. Meeting the needs of developing countries in the fight against climate change.

It was that first point that Ms Harman concentrated on to make a direct call to the government:

“We cannot have succeeded in the struggle to have a new UN women’s agency only to discover that its governing board is men. That would be to contradict everything that it stands for.

“And the executive board should reach out beyond women in the UN missions and women in governments and include women in civil society organisations.”

In order to achieve this and to ensure the UK’s position as a world leader in women’s rights, Ms Harman decried the fact that among the Department for International Development and Foreign and Commonwealth Office ministerial teams, there was not a single woman.

She said:

“We [Labour] are calling on the Government to make a ministerial appointment of a woman to carry on the work that Glenys Kinnock was doing when we were in government – a role you campaigned for. She led the UK’s work on tackling violence against women overseas and she did a great job.

“The first time such an appointment had been made in the UK. That was important leadership and the government must continue it.”

Well, the government must have been half listening as Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone has, just today, had ‘International Violence Against Women Champion’ added to her brief. Potentially stopping well short of what Ms Harman called for, there is little indication as yet as to what authority Ms Featherstone will have, nor what resources she will have at hand to make a difference to the lives of women across the world.

On remittances, Ms Harman drew on the experiences of many in her constituency, including a report she compiled in 2007:

“I call them the ‘hidden heroes of international development’. People living in my constituency who come from Sierra Leone, Nigeria or Ghana who are living here and working hard bringing up their families. Sometimes doing more than one job, like office cleaning.

“As well as paying their taxes and providing for their family, they also send money back to their home country… But I think we can and should do much more to support remittances.”

It was clear from the passion in her speech that Ms Harman looks determined to make a difference in her new role. Before the election, there was cross-party consensus on the enshrining of the 0.7 per cent law; it was now Labour’s role, she said, to press the coalition to ensure that this Bill is put before Parliament. In a time where the government seems to turn with the tide, Labour:

“… doesn’t want to risk this being the next promise abandoned.”

Left Foot Forward has previously written about a worrying lack of ambition, ideas or leadership emanating from the coalition on international development. With these six points, Harriet Harman has once again demonstrated that Labour is providing leadership on this issue – the focus on trade, tax and global growth is therefore particularly welcome, and LCID looks forward to hearing more on the shadow team’s proposals.

You can read ActionAid’s news from International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women here.

By Tim Nicholls

Why did DfID spend £2m on the Pope’s visit to the UK?

This article first appeared on Left Foot Forward.

Written Ministerial Statement today reveals that the Department for International Development (DfID) spent nearly £2m on the Pope’s successful visit to the UK. The document states that £1.85m was transferred to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office “in respect of the papal visit.”

This follows a written Parliamentary Answer by Lord Sassoon on 11 November which said:

“Ministers agreed that costs of the state visit falling to the Government would be divided among departments with an interest in the visit and involved in the planning process.”

Left Foot Forward asked DfID what the justification for this was. A spokesperson said:

“The Catholic Church’s huge global influence plays a vital role in the international fight against poverty. The visit took place just days before the critical UN MDG Summit in New York, and was an opportunity for the Pope to speak out on behalf of the billion Catholics across the world and put pressure on world leaders to take action against global poverty.

“The Pope’s influence has been illustrated through previous interventions such as his letter to G8 leaders ahead of the L’Aquila Summit last year, calling for action on hunger. G8 leaders responded with a US$ 20 billion food security initiative.”

With the total cost of the papal visit reported to be £10 million, DfID’s contribution represents almost one-fifth of the total – higher than might have been expected for a department geared at international development.

Only last week during International Development Questions, Conservative MP Gary Streeterquestioned whether the advocacy departments of NGOs represented value for money. Perhaps he should ask his own Government whether it’s really a wise use of DfID money to pay nearly £2 million to host a speech?

The Coalition has recently widened the definition of what counts as aid. This example sets a very poor precedent indeed for that change.

 

Tax Havens, Conservatives and the Developing World

After the recent investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches programme that Conservative Ministers, Andrew Mitchell the International Development Secretary amongst them, store their wealth in off-shore bank accounts, the question of the harm done by these locations and their practices are now being asked.

The figure quoted in the Dispatches investigation is that for every £1 that goes into the developing world via aid and trade, £10 goes into off-shore tax havens. That is a staggering amount of money that is being re-directed away from where it could of use to world’s poorest. There has been a growing acceptance in the international community that more needs to be done to ensure that fair and accountable tax regimes become common practice. The G20 meeting in April 2009 set a clear set of targets to see these practices clamped down on, due in part to the damage they do to the developing world, stating that they aimed ‘to make it easier for developing countries to secure the benefits of a new cooperative tax environment.’

The OECD in late 2009 looked into the progress being made to achieve the aims set out by the G20 and found that 42 signatories had yet to implement the internationally agreed recommendations – one of these being the favoured tax haven of the now International Development Secretary, the British Virgin Islands (a British Overseas Territory).

Closer to home the House of Commons International Development Select Committee has stated that tax havens are a severe hindrance to the developing world. In its report in October 2009 ‘Aid under Pressure’ it had the following to say on tax havens;

“114. Tax evasion is a major problem faced by developing countries in attempting to raise tax revenue. Tax havens facilitate tax evasion by operating lax regulations; providing companies with anonymity through bank secrecy; and by failing to co-operate on tax matters with authorities from the country in which the funds originated.”

Given that the G20, the House of Commons and the OECD all agree that tax havens damage the developing world, its increasingly curious that the Development Secretary feels it is acceptable to benefit from using their services.

Furthermore, the question of fair taxation is not only a problem within developing nations, its also a problem within aid-giving states. If the money that wealthy UK citizens and companies stored overseas were repatriated to the UK not only would our GDP increase (and the amount of money that constitutes the target of 0.7% of GDP going into development would substantially increase) we would also have more taxable income that could be re-directed into DfID’s budget.

It is very simple economics, but economics that substantially harms the developing world. That the international community has already stated its clear aim of dealing with the problem of off-shore tax havens, it is therefore concerning that members of the UK government are indulging in these practices, particularly those whose remits are to tackle the very problems that tax havens are exacerbating.

The Secretary of State has said he has done nothing illegal, and that is true. But that does not exonerate him from the charge that he, and by extension his government, are unwilling or incapable of tackling the practices that are in part responsible for underdevelopment in many parts of the world. In fact, they are taking part in and enjoying the benefits of those practices. Whilst leaders in the developed world fail to understand why underdevelopment takes place, and whilst they are unwilling to seriously deal with these problems and lead by example, the depravity that those in the developing world face will continue to worsen.

Lee Butcher is a Parliamentary Researcher to a Labour MP – views expressed are done so in a personal capacity.

Could the Government be about to destroy the International Development Act?

By Margaret Dantas Araujo

Some of the UK’s biggest charities, Oxfam, CAFOD, and Save the Children, have publically raised concerns about the growing threat of securitisation of the aid budget. The use of aid for political reasons would be in direct contravention of the International Development Act 2002.  The act,  explicitly states,

(1)The Secretary of State may provide any person or body with development assistance if he is satisfied that the provision of the assistance is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty.
(2)In this Act “development assistance” means assistance provided for the purpose of—
(a)furthering sustainable development in one or more countries outside the United Kingdom, or
(b)improving the welfare of the population of one or more such countries.
(3)For the purposes of subsection (2)(a) “sustainable development” includes any development that is, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, prudent having regard to the likelihood of its generating lasting benefits for the population of the country or countries in relation to which it is provided.

On DFID’s website an explanation is provided of the act which states, “The 2002 Act is drafted in such a way that a policy such as “tied aid” (and the Aid and Trade Provision), in which assistance is given for the purpose of promoting UK trade or for other commercial or political reasons, would now be challengeable in the courts.”

The International Development Act was drafted following consultations with the NGO community.  Now fears are being raised by the NGO community that the government is freezing them out of crucial decisions.   In a public letter to the Guardian they stated,

“Last week the secretary of state, Andrew Mitchell, gave assurances that there would be comprehensive consultation about the future direction of development policy. These documents seem to suggest to some extent this direction has already been set. We urge him to immediately clarify the purpose of these documents and reassure the public that aid will continue to be used to reduce poverty where the needs are greatest. Reducing global poverty will contribute more to long-term stability than focusing on short-term security interests.”

DfID has a stellar international reputation and brings the UK considerable soft power.  Moving away from the International Development Act would have serious repercussions on how the UK is viewed by international community..  There is increasing pressure on Andrew Mitchell and the Tory government to divulge publically their plans for DfID and to open discussion up to the wider public and NGO community.

Steve Cockburn asks: value for money – for who?

Writing for Progressonline, Steve Cockburn (LCID executive member), questions whether the recent calls from the Government to get value for money is truthfully aimed at furthering the interests of British foreign policy, rather than alleviating poverty.

Some recent Government decisions back up Steve’s argument:

One recent warning sign is the decision to spend what could amount to around £200 million of aid money on an airport on the British Overseas Territory of St Helena, a project supported by Lord Ashcroft and slammed by Denis MacShane as “a scandal of Pergau Dam proportions”.

As we at LCID have asked before, Steve asks:

Might this be the first big example of the new government using the aid budget as a cross-departmental subsidy, to cover things you might imagine should really come from elsewhere?

The question is a particularly valid one, and one that has not yet received a proper answer from the Government. You can read the full text of Steve’s article here.

Why do the Tories want to copy Canada on International Development?

It would appear that the Tories are looking across the Atlantic for their ideas, but not to Washington and President Obama, but to Ottawa and the minority government of Stephen Harper.

Earlier this month shadow Tory minister for International Development, Andrew Mitchell praised the approach of the Canadian government to international development.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, he was quoted as citing ‘the work of the Swedish and Canadian governments and the approach adopted by George Bush’ as models he wanted to follow, saying that they provided examples of how right-wing governments we’re embracing the aid agenda.

But a quick look at the Canada’s record on international development since the Conservative government formed a minority government in 2006 makes for worrying reading.

It’s a story of unfulfilled election promises, putting economic interests ahead of poverty reduction and cutting funding to well-regarded NGOs who dare to speak out.

Despite former Canadian Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson coming up with the idea of developed countries giving 0.7% of national income to international poverty, when he authored the ‘Partners for Development’ report in 1969. Even the most patriotic Canadian would find it hard to argue that the nation has ever been a leader, with level of ODA traditionally lagging behind those of others in the OECD.

But under the Liberal government in the early 2000s, the country saw increases it is ODA budget for a number of consecutive years, growing from $2.6 billion in 2000–2001 to $4.4 billion in 2005–2006. But that’s all been reversed since the Harper government came into power.

The independent Reality of Aid report in 2008 indicates that;

Canadian ODA performance has stagnated at 0.28% of GNI in 2007 and 0.30% 2008, with no plan for increases beyond 2010.

That after three consecutive budgets, it seems clear that the current Conservative Government is not living up to its election promises on aid made in January 2006. At that time, the Conservatives promised:

  • To honour all the commitments made by the then Liberal government (doubling Canadian aid between 2001 and 2010 with 8% annual increases to the International Assistance Envelope, and a $500 million one-off addition to aid in 2006 and 2007).
  • To put another one-off $425 million into the aid program before 2010.
  • To improve Canada’s ODA performance ratio to reach the average of OECD DAC countries, which according to the OECD DAC was 0.45% of GNI in 2007.

It’s a situation that doesn’t appear to be improving, with the Make Poverty History campaigning recently suggesting to its supporters that the country ‘was only aiming for a C in generosity, but was currently earning a D’.

On aid quality, despite the Canadian Parliament passing the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act (the Better Aid Bill), a groundbreaking piece of legislation which enshrined into law that the countries aid must be used to reduce poverty, take account of the perspectives of the poor and be constant with international human rights perspectives. However the Conservative government appears to set aside the law to pursue more politically expedient uses of its already limited aid budget.

Critics of the government have cited the decision to drop CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency) funding in to seven African countries including Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, in favour of increasing support to middle income countries in the Americas and Africa as evidence of broader foreign policy interests.

Finally, recently the government has been embroiled in a scandal after suddenly cutting all of its support to Kairos, one of the countries biggest ecumenical human rights groups, with a 40 year record of working around the world, because CIDA didn’t believe it fits with its ‘priorities’ despite the organisations very work being consistent with much of the countries Better Aid bill.

By Tom Baker