29 December 2010 – By Patrick O’Flynn | WHAT would you think if you had a relative who was running a big overdraft for which you ere ultimately liable and yet made frequent expeditions to his town centre during which he gave away large sums to anyone in the vicinity?
I bet pride would not be the first emotion that came to mind.
Yet pride is what International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell asks us to feel about Britain’s foreign aid policy. “Even in difficult economic times Britain can be proud that it stood by people in their hour of need,” he boasts.
And Mr Mitchell’s view is shared by the leading lights of all main political parties. All support the rapid expansion of the international aid budget even as Britain’s public service budgets are frozen or reduced.
Despite borrowing £140 billion a year and having run up a gargantuan national debt our political class has decided to increase the amount given away each year to other countries from an already worldbeating £7.8 billion to £11.5 billion by 2015. That will represent a more than five-fold increase over the £2billion aid budget inherited by Labour from John Major’s government.
In effect our politicians are borrowing money from cannier nations such as China and then giving it away to the regimes of Third World dictators while leaving us to shoulder the repayments – with interest – back to the Chinese for many years ahead. And they expect us to be “proud” of them.
Yesterday this newspaper revealed that British humanitarian aid was rising sharply even as other countries were paring back their contributions in the economic downturn.
Ever since Irish rock star Bono lavished Tony Blair and Gordon Brown with praise for spending more British taxpayers’ money on aid our major politicians have craved a similar endorsement. The U2 front man told the 2004 Labour conference that Blair and Brown were the “Lennon and McCartney of global development”.
They beamed before, no doubt, retiring backstage to feud about which was Lennon and which was McCartney. Beatification by-Bono is still a prime objective for senior political figures.
The singer sent a video message to this year’s Conservative conference praising David Cameron for standing by the big-spending aid pledges of his predecessors.
Mr Mitchell appears to have swallowed the Bono world view, giving every impression his dearest wish is to be dubbed the Ringo Starr of this policy area. Economists have never found convincing evidence that foreign aid results in faster growth.
Indeed there is growing evidence that it distorts emerging economies and inhibits them from taking essential steps such as tackling corruption, becoming more averse to warfare and sweeping away backward social attitudes.
The wholesale decline of Zimbabwe under the monstrous Robert Mugabe is a case in point. A land that was once Africa’s breadbasket has had hundreds of millions in aid from Britain and yet starvation is widespread and the economy is in freefall because of state thuggery and corruption.
In October the organisation Human Rights Watch published a report showing that British aid contributions were helping to prop up the brutal regime of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia and that Mr Mitchell’s Department for International Development (DFID) did not have the competence to monitor the huge sums it was giving away there. Zenawi supporters were able to use British aid to keep impoverished communities quiescent rather than to engage in proper development.
And this was not an isolated case. In Rwanda there are growing suspicions that British aid has been exploited by the regime of Paul Kagame to repress dissent. British taxpayers subsidised that country to the tune of £70million in 2008-9.
Earlier this month a report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee revealed something equally disturbing: A pattern of failure by DFID to monitor the value for money obtained from £1billion of UK aid meant to boost primary education in Africa and Asia.
DFID had “no coherent framework” to measure whether the aid was making a difference, the committee found. It was “extremely concerned” about fraud in an education programme in Kenya. Instead of proper monitoring DFID relied on “selective examples and anecdotes”.
Committee chairman Margaret Hodge observed: “This becomes all the more serious as the department’s total aid budget increases in real terms by roughly a third.”
Although Mr Mitchell has begun to improve the lax monitoring of the Labour years there is no prospect whatever of him relinquishing his planned £4billion increase.
It shows just how distorted the priorities of the political class have become that this sum is the very amount that teaching budgets are to be reduced by in our universities, necessitating the trebling of tuition fees and decades of debt for British youngsters.
Cabinet ministers are conforming to a classic trait of wealthy liberals: being generous with other people’s money.
Praise comes pouring in for them from celebrities who have sought out “ambassadorial” roles while the put-upon British taxpayer is left to pick up the tab. At any time it would be an insult to the efforts of millions of hardworking families. But at a time of national austerity the foreign aid racket is an unforgivable indulgence.
Read more: http://www.express.co.uk/…