I went back to the LSE on 2nd February to give a talk as one in a series to students studying development. I based my reflections on the lessons of setting up the Department for International Development in 1997 which is quite an entertaining story. For what it is worth I will summarise my reflections here.
The first is that a real commitment to development means working to transform the world into a more equitable and sustainable place. This is necessarily a pressure to change policies and will clash with old government assumptions about foreign policy, trade policy, arms sales etc. It is a different perspective on both what is moral and just and what is in the national interest.
Aid is a tool of development but not the only tool and money can be spent well or badly. Aid can be used to fit into old policies and used to serve narrow national interests or just to try to curry favour and enhance the reputation of the donor. It is wrong therefore simply to focus on the quantity of money spent as NGOs tend to do
Everyone claims to be in favour of a more just and sustainable world. Resistance in government comes not to the big words but the specific reforms that are needed like :- untying aid, making international trade agreements fairer for developing countries, reforming agricultural policy to get rid of unfair subsidies, ensuring UK companies pay their taxes in developing countries, ensuring arms sales are not destructive, influencing UN, World Bank and IMF policy etc etc.
‘Project’ aid as opposed to ‘budgetary aid’ leaves no sustainable capacity behind it. Working in partnership with governments that agree an MDG – or now SDG as our agreed objective can lead to a real partnership and help create transparent financial systems and sustainable health or education systems serving a whole country. The UK no longer provides budgetary aid.
UK development policy has deteriorated since the 0.7 target was achieved. This emphasises the point that money can be spent well or badly.
Photo credit: Sgt. Neil Bryden, RAF.