As with the entry of any new government, most departments go through a series of reforms post-election. The Department for International Development (DFID) has been no exception to this. Andrew Mitchell took charge of the department and has shown some promising advancements, such as forming an independent foreign aid watchdog and placing a focus on women in developing countries.
However any signs of promise have now been completely and utterly overshadowed by one of the most idiotic, misguided and backward policy suggestions of… well perhaps ever.
A leaked Whitehall paper has stated that aid funds must make the “maximum possible contribution” to UK national security.
‘National security’ should have absolutely nothing to do with the UK aid budget. The aid budget should be aimed at people with the most need and deprivation. This leak demonstrates exactly the kind of self-interested, politically motivated aid that is wasteful and tarnishes the reputation of aid donors.
Aid needs to be an experimentally based system, of finding where money is most effective in helping people in the most desperate parts of the world. If ‘national security’ is placed before this system then the money might as well be labelled ‘cash for propping up middle-eastern governments we like (and their armies)’.
The National Security Council being a stakeholder in foreign aid is counter to what DFID should be trying to achieve. In a press release in June DFID announced the budget “will be better targeted to where it can do most good.” Clearly the coalition government interprets the meaning of the word ‘good’ very differently from anyone with a shred of common sense, or for that matter common decency.
I had high hopes for UK foreign aid under a new government with fresh ideas but that has all dissipated in the wake of the opacity of ‘national security’. Aid should be a bottom-up process of aiding individuals and communities; but I fear this new approach will mean funding is channeled high up into central governments. DFID should be proving aid is being allocated on a basis of effective help for people and in a transparent manner rather than wasting time on this vague objective.
Let’s hope for the people who really need assistance this policy gets scrapped very quickly.