Will long-term poverty reduction fail under the Tories?

There is an article running on the Guardian website analysing the contradiction at the heart of Conservative international development policy. It looks at the emerging schism between traditional Conservative values on aid and the ring-fenced budget; as well as between an increased focus on security and the alleviation of poverty.

LCID has run several articles on worries over the increased militarisation of aid as well as Conservative spending priorities. We will continue to scrutinise the Government’s actions.

It is well worth a read.

Conservatives plan foreign office raid on DfID

By Margaret Dantas Araujo

Poverty reduction in the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries is best achieved when DfID is directing the deployment of our aid budget. However, yet another leaked memo has shed light on Tory intentions to bring Dfid cash under the control of the Foreign Office by requesting that UK security be considered in all aid proposals.

The National Security Council, which now overseas all foreign policy, urges that overseas aid be used to maximise UK security, a ruling that may be in direct breach of the International Development Act of 2002.  The memo sent to staff responsible for drawing up aid proposals states, “the ODA budget should make the maximum possible contribution to national security consistent with ODA rules.  Although the NSC will not in most cases direct DfID spend in country, we need to be able to make the case for how our work contributes to national security.”  The document goes on to state, “We need to explain how DfID’s work in fragile states contributes to national security through ‘upstream’ prevention that helps to stop potential threats to the UK developing (including work to improve health and education, provide water build roads, improve governance and security).”

NGOs argue that the use of aid as an arm of foreign policy will divert aid from humanitarian goals focused on improving health and education to defence projects and tying aid to the purchase of British products.
The shadow international development minister, Gareth Thomas, agrees stating, “This document is deeply worrying, as it confirms the fears of many in the international development and humanitarian community that the government plans to securitise the aid budget, and weaken its focus in prioritising resources on the poorest people and countries.”

A previous leaked document showed DfID cutting 80% of its budget commitments including free healthcare. Thomas said: “It is now becoming clearer why the Tories have abandoned over 80 of our key international commitments – including the pledge to put millions more children into school – as less resources will be available, with money being diverted to security priorities.”  It will also allow Tories to continue to claim DfID is ring fenced by shifting funding from the Ministry of Defence and DECC (for climate change adaptation and mitigation) to DfID.

The UN has recently criticised countries for spending the bulk of their aid on post-conflict states.  “The distribution of development assistance remains highly skewed. Although the share of ODA flows allocated to the poorer countries increased somewhat between 2000 and 2007 … most of the increase in ODA since 2000 has been limited to a few post-conflict countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Together, these two countries received about a sixth of country allocations from DAC [Development Assistance Committee of OECD] countries, even though they account for less than 2 per cent of the total population of the developing countries. African aid lags far behind commitments and far behind needs.”

The use of aid for geopolitical and commercial interests is in-step with the previous Thatcher/Major Governments which saw aid drop to its lowest levels and oversaw the infamous Pergau Dam scandal.  The Cameron administration looks set to follow suit.  It is now vital to make the case to the Coalition Government that aid should be used for poverty reduction is the world’s poorest countries and not for own selfish motives.

The Tories announce their Afghanistan strategy, but there’s a lot left unanswered

In this article in The Times, William Hague and George Osborne are credited with announcing a new Tory policy for the development of Afghanistan. Their aim, so they say, is to draw on the military to carry out “quick impact aid work and infrastructure projects in the aftermath of fighting.” Surely this sounds like a good idea: drawing on the excellent experience of our Armed Forces to aid with construction. It is a good idea (when done properly), but it is not new. DfID incorporated it into its Afghanistan strategy months ago.

In 2008, the Department for International Development carried out a comprehensive consultation, including government ministries, civil society, the private sector and most importantly Afghan communities. The resulting strategy for Afghanistan includes a vital role for the military. Douglas Alexander is quoted in The Times as saying, “The highly praised provincial reconstruction team operating in Helmand already brings together military and civilian support in delivering a comprehensive approach to stabilisation.” This is a strategy that can provide positive results, but the role of the military must be considered wisely. What is crucial to success in Afghanistan is a balanced partnership between civilians and the military, as well as the Afghan Government. Indeed, it is vital that development comes from the Afghan state and that is why DfID channels half of its funding through the Government.

The Tories are often quick to criticise civilian aid work, but in doing so they run the risk of relying too heavily on the military. In a country with as bloody a past as Afghanistan, civilian aid groups are often able to reach communities that the military simply cannot. It is vital that this role is not overlooked. A spokesperson for Médicins sans Frontières is quote in The Times saying just this: “We secure access to very tricky parts of the world because of civilians understanding that we are not military. Where military sell themselves as humanitarians it is very, very problematic.”

There is little meat on the bones of the policy beyond simply stating that the military could be used. The Times reports that DfID will be dismayed to hear that funding for the military activities would come out of the International Development budget. This would lead to a real-terms cut in aid for civilian development. What is also unclear is how much of this new Tory policy relies on what people on the ground believe to be right for development. DfID’s consultation spread the net wide and included local communities. What is not clear is how far the Tories have consulted outside of the military.

Tim Nicholls