Why have The Times got the knives out for DfID?

This post was first posted on Left Foot Forward.

Following on from The Times’s coverage of the International Policy Network’s allegations against DfID’s funding of the TUC – allegations that Left Foot Forward showed to be unfounded – they have once again fuelled the aid sceptics’ fire with several leading articles in their paper today.


Here Left Foot Forward examines some of the key points raised and counters them below:

Firstly, The Times’ Leader and articles focuses on Malawi in an attempt to undermine DfID’s transparency and effectiveness.

In particular, they report on the House of Commons Public Account Committee report on DfID’s programme in Malawi. Whilst the Committee’s report does call for a better structure for monitoring results and measuring efficiency, this is not the same as alluding that £312million has “seeped out of sight” as The Times reported it.

DfID’s aid programme in Malawi is far from unsuccessful. The Public Accounts Committee itself acknowledged aid from DFID has actively contributed to progress in Malawi’s development, “such as reduced hunger and substantially improved capacity in the health system”.

In another report by the National Audit Office , DFID was reported as being “well regarded by the Malawian government and scores well against international aid principles”, and having “made well-informed investment choices”.

DfID’s successes in Malawi are comprehensively listed on their website, as they are for every country they work in, and include 4,200 classrooms since 1996, benefiting 430,000 children, and a huge reduction in the number of babies and young children dying before their fiftth birthday – at least 15,000 fewer children die per year compared to 2004.

The Times make further unjustified claims that budget sector support is ineffective and has no strings attached.

Giving money directly to partner-country governments through general budget support helps poor people have access to the basic services which are everyone’s right – such as health and education. It is also an investment for a future world where poor countries are increasingly self-reliant.

Leading NGOs such as Oxfam have strongly advocated for Budget Sector Support for these reasons. The Budget Support Performance Assessment Framework for Malawi is one example of this successful approach.

A joined up initiative with DFID, Norway, the European Commission and African Development Bank, it has helped to provide food security, affordable fertiliser, and helped to get children into schools, vaccinate children against measles, deliver anti-retroviral drugs, distribute bednets and reduce maternal mortality.

In DfID’s evidence to the Parliamentary Accounts Committee, they stated their view that Budget Support or aid to governments is no more liable to fraud than other types of aid.

Of course aid must be accountable, but when The Times talks about “quantifiable strings”, they would do well to read the No Shock Doctrine for Haiti article on Left Foot Forward so see what damage the wrong strings can have when they force countries to submit to damaging economic policies.

A key success of the Make Poverty History campaign was the Government’s pledge in 2005 that UK aid would no longer be tied to trade liberalisation and that must not be reversed.

The Times then appear to be copying the Tories’ lazy assumptions about our aid to India and China.

India may have a growing economy, but they still have 456 million people living below the international poverty line, who cannot access basic services or feed their children adequately.

The Times do not even acknowledge the historic debt that Britain owes to a sub-continent which experienced some of the worst famines ever recorded and whose economy was left devastated by British Colonial Rule, as academics such as Amartya Sen have argued.

On China, The Times and the Conservatives are creating a noise over something that DfID is already doing. As Left Foof Forward has reported previously, the 2006-2011 country plan states that the Government are already phasing out our aid to China, switching to a relationship based on dialogue and cooperation helping them achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

The Times’s running theme is an attempt to cast doubt on both DfID’s transparency and its effectiveness.

Even if improvements need to be made in DfID’s Malawi programme, The Times should not be using an individual project to undermine all of our UK aid.

The accusations of The Times and other aid sceptics don’t stand up under the spotlight, as we have demonstrated on Left Foot Forward with our analysis of the allegations around DfID’s funding of the TUC, and the Tories’ proposed policies.

DfID’s website comprehensively lists all of their projects, country plans, successes, annual reports and accounts, and expenditure statistics, and is independently audited.

They ask “why is that there is a distinct feeling that the knives are out for Dfid?”

But the biggest knives appear to be coming from The Times’ reproduction of briefings fed to them by aid sceptics and the Conservatives.

These attacks demonstrate the importance of passing the Government’s draft International Development Spending Bill to enshrine into law its promise to raise the share of UK national income spent on aid to 0.7 per cent by 2013.

by David Taylor.