What a difference an (election) day makes


Allegations of waste and cronyism in foreign aid are nothing new. Since the 1960s, both economists and taxpayers have increasingly regarded governmental foreign aid as “an excellent method for transferring money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.” (Lord Bauer) It now appears that the new government may have got the message, too. At least to some extent.

Things have changed pretty swiftly at the £5-billion-a-year Department for International Development (DfID) since May 6th. Last year, when International Policy Network’s report on Fake Aid highlighted how over £1 billion in so-called foreign aid had been spent on “communication”, “awareness” and “advocacy”, the then minister Gareth Thomas argued that “we should do more, rather than less, of this.” 

Further, when the Daily Telegraph reported on £50 million worth of “overseas aid” that never even left British shores, a DfID spokesperson defended the spending as “in line with our obligations under the 2002 International Development Act” and “to help the British public get involved in the fight against global poverty”.

And DFID remained silent when over £3.6 million of taxpayers’ money was revealed to have been assigned to the Trade Union Congress.

But now the incoming coalition government seems to be cutting such profligate and dubious spending. Andrew Mitchell has declared an immediate freeze on new “awareness” spending by DfID, and a pledge that only projects that satisfy “tough results-based criteria” will be funded in future.

Andrew Mitchell’s proposal to cut “awareness” spending is indubitably a good start and shows the right attitude from the new secretary of state for development. Another way in which Britain could help the fight against poverty is by maintaining an open economy. Immigration not only benefits Britain, but also allows economic migrants to contribute an estimated £926 million per year in remittances to their home country. 

This kind of private philanthropy should not be underestimated. UK companies already invest nearly £30 billion in developing countries and private individuals donated £9.9bn in 2009, partially to development charities.

Vast rethinks on aid and migration are unlikely to come anytime soon among timid politicians. In this midst, Andrew Mitchell has to be congratulated for taking a swift and bold stand against the more absurd elements of DfID’s spending.

Andrea Marchesetti is a research assistant at the International Policy Network