Foreign Aid: Cash or Skills?

FOREIGN aid risks making Third World countries dependent on handouts by prioritising “short-term and immediate results” instead of “lasting change”, an official review warns.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact warns: “The Department for International Development’s results system is not currently oriented towards measuring or reporting on long-term transformative change – that is, the contribution of UK aid to catalysing wider development processes, such as enhancing the ability of its partner countries to finance and lead their own development. ​[Steven Swinford, Deputy Political Editor​, The Telegraph]

The scandal of Oxfam workers, quite rightly, remains in the news, but a shift is occurring which is extremely important; the role of DFID in ensuring that British aid to the developing countries around the world is a flagship of quality, achievement, and integrity.

It is not enough for DFID to be merely the banker, the government pot of gold to be dished out only to the large and powerful U.K. charities or direct to governments of the countries needing help. DFID is more than a bank, it is a hub for the best that Britain has to offer in terms of skills, materials, Human Resources. It should be a “warehouse” of teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers, firefighters, agriculturalists, biologists, psychologists, counsellors, experts in change or transformation, instead of administrators, managers, bureaucrats and bloody “feasibility study experts” who sit in hotels in developing countries most evenings with their laptops working on enough spreadsheets to paper a house if printed!

It is no coincidence that smaller U.K. charities have a greater proportion of “experts” in their ranks such as teachers, nurses etc., which in turn is why they are often much more effective than the mega INGOs. And yet DFID won’t work with many of the small and effective charities with proven track records; in our experience they wouldn’t even look at our methods, outcomes, or research in transforming the quality of education in 200 schools. Their focus was on “scale” and (as my Nepali wife asserts) not challenging the Nepal government’s incompetence and arrogance! To be specific, Nepal’s School Sector Reform Plan published in 2010 with a budget of $billions was nothing more than a bureaucratic, old fashioned, unfocused collection of unconnected interventions that had NO CHANCE of success. I guess we at Nepal Schools Aid became enemy #1 because we pointed this out. However in 2016 a minister in Nepal’s Ministry of Education apologised for the Plan’s failure due to “an incorrect focus” then promptly asked for further international aid to develop a new plan! You couldn’t make this up!

So, we need to keep up the pressure on DFID in the midst of the Oxfam scandal which is a catalyst and a burning platform that could lead to a much needed transformation of the UK Aid system. DFID needs to change, radically, and it’s not just about the money!

Our previous posts on this:

Why nations fail and remain poor.

Oxfam are not solely to blame.


Categories: Politics

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2 replies

  1. Overseas Aid will always be unpopular unless it can be demonstrated that it is used wisely and is reaching the people it is intended to support. Neither of these can be shown to be the case. The 07% target of GDP is absurd, there should be no target (this doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be foreign aid) because Government Departments will spend their budgets regardless of whether or not it makes any sense. It is rather like all the pot holes being repaired in March as Highway Departments panic to spend their cash! The press will always discover barmy spending which then discredits the whole system. There needs to be much improved scrutiny over spending.

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    • We obviously have direct experience in Nepal of running our own education charity, but we rubbed shoulders with people from DFID plus large INGOs as well as government and saw the ineffectiveness of spending plus corruption of government. You’re right about the absurdity of the target and we have seen Nepali ministries spending like mad in March to use up their budgets before applying for more aid. (Dr C’s nephew was Prime Minister for two years!).

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