Sunday, May 30, 2004

Shock news: foreign aid is squandered

The shadow international development secretary, John Bercow, has pointed to the European Commission’s own evaluation of EU aid to prove that the large sums spent on supposedly helping the poor counties of the world are, in fact, spent on unnecessary junkets and “cultural events” that tend to promote the EU (in other words, propaganda).

For example, in 2002 £200,000 was spent on a pan-African cinema festival in Burkina Faso, an impoverished West African country; another £992,000 was spent on films set in African countries (did these ever get shown anywhere?). Several cultural projects were located in the Mediterranean – so much more pleasant than tropical Africa. These received £25 million in all. A mere £14.2 million was spent promoting the image of EU aid. (Promoting to whom?)

There is nothing staggeringly new about it all. Foreign aid has been a constant source of corruption since its existence. It takes money from the poor of the rich countries and gives it to the rich of the poor countries. So it was phrased by the greatest student of the subject, Lord Bauer (the economist P. T. Bauer). He showed effectively a long time ago that foreign aid created a dependency culture, held back development and supported corrupt and bloodthirsty governments.

Still, it flows. The only thing that has changed is that much of the British aid is now channelled through the EU, which prides itself on giving more of it to developing countries than anyone else does. Presumably, that is to make up for the unfair trading policies that the EU also practises.

There have been innumerable blistering Court of Auditors reports on EU foreign aid in general and separate projects in particular. The famous report on corruption in UCLAF the then anti-corruption agency of the Commission, specifically pointed to several aid projects as being blighted beyond anything else.

A long-delayed OLAF (the new anti-corruption unit) report on aid to the Palestinian territory will probably show that large sums have been channelled into private bank accounts and, even worse, on supporting terrorist organizations.

The complaints about foreign aid often centre on money disappearing in the recipient countries. The EU has got round that problem. A great deal disappears before it ever gets to the recipients.

The Conservative Party has pledged itself to repatriate foreign aid (together with fisheries and agriculture), should it win the next general election. Let us hope this happens. Let us also hope that immediately on achieving this aim the Conservatives take a long hard look at the whole concept of aid and start thinking of trade or other economic relations as a way of helping poor countries instead.

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