Today I want to discuss the ethics behind our international development policy. If I ask, is it is our moral duty to reach out to the poor and hungry; to help those facing flood and famine; to support reform that will enable the poor to work,to be healthy and educated and lift themselves out of poverty, almost everyone will answer yes. If you put the question in this way, few would dare to answer no. But in fact many do answered no, despite the fact that many of them would claim to be Christians.
As we meet in this beautiful Cathedral in Ripon, it is worth reminding ourselves that in Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 25, he tells us that at the end of the world, In the US, where it is virtually compulsory to be an active Christian in order to stand for political office, they have a very low aid budget, and extremely high defence budget. Jesus will call all the nations to him and separate them into sheep and goats. ( I really think this categorisation is unfair on goats but that is another story.) To the goats he will say “the curse is upon you; go from my sight to the eternal fire that is ready for the devil and his angels. For when I was hungry you gave me nothing to eat, when thirsty nothing to drink; when I was naked you did not clothe me, when I was ill and imprison you did not come to my help”. When they ask when they failed it this way, Jesus says “anything you did not do for one of these, however humble you did not do for me”.
And yet, in the US, where it is virtually compulsory to be an active Christian in order to stand for political office, they have a very low aid budget, and extremely high defence budget (more than half of global military spending) and they are very big charitable givers. They quote the Bible frequently, so they must have a different interpretation of Matthew Chapter 25.
And similarly, Prime Minister Cameron’s commitment to match the previous governments promise to meet the UN target that each wealthy country should spend 0.7% of GDP on official development assistance is under attack in the media and from many politicians.
Much of the discussion of development focuses on aid, and the quantity of aid, to the exclusion of other considerations. This is an inadequate focus. Aid does matter but behind the question of quantity lies the question of how it is spent. In this field as in any other, money can be used for good or bad purposes.
And we should not be mesmerised by money alone, because it is also important to ask what are our policies on trade, use of environmental resources, bribery, money-laundering, arms sales etc. These matter as much as Aid. And it matters how the Aid is spent. In fact there is a danger–which I think new Labour in its second term exemplified–of using the development programme and the aid budget, to camouflage a destructive and immoral foreign policy. In reality, in this field, as in all others, there is not just one moral question. All questions have a moral dimension.
My own conclusion is that development policy can’t be separated from foreign policy and that what is morally right is also in our intelligent self-interest. For example, I’m afraid that EU and US policy on the Israel/Palestine question, support terrible suffering for the Palestinian people and grave breaches of international law, which is obviously against the interests of the Palestinian people but in my view is also damaging to Israel, the US and the EU. The European Union is also a major donor to relieve suffering in the Palestinian occupied territories but it also colludes in Israeli policy, which in breach of international law and causes terrible Palestinian suffering. This is an example of development assistance being used to prop up an immoral settlement.
Having made these introductory andDevelopment policy can’t be separated from foreign policy: what is morally right is also in our intelligent self-interest. cautionary remarks I will turn now to the question of the quantity of UK aid. The UN set a target in 1970, that each OECD, donor country should contribute 0.7% of GDP in official overseas development assistance. In the UK our income per head in 2011 was £23,000. It is important to note that this is the amount available from our total national income for each woman, man and child (obviously it is not equally distributed). Just to get a clear idea of the level of poverty in the world, we should note that the income per head in some of the poorest countries is–Democratic Republic of Congo £190, Malawi £500, Afghanistan £570. We might also wish to pause and remember the way in which historically, the richer countries, including our own, have benefited from exploiting these countries. But the point of these figures is to demonstrate the cost to each of us of meeting the UN target. To meet the 0.7% aim, we should contribute £161 per head. In 2010, we contributed 0.56% of GDP that is £8.5 billion. this compares with the £47 billion we spent on defence, £93 billion on education and £124 billion on health.
I believe that it is important that we should meet the UN target and I reject criticisms of those who say that because we are cutting our domestic programs we should cut what we give to support the poorest in the world. But the argument must not stop there. They must then go on to scrutinise how the money is being spent. For example during the Cold War years, each side tended to contribute aid to the country’s that supported them. So for example, everyone knew that President Mobutu of Zaire was a kleptocratic dictator, but he was a pro-western kleptocratic dictator and therefore in receipt of generous aid until the mid-1990s.
Another example of aid being used in a distorted way which damages the likelihood of it bringing lasting benefits is the practice of tying aid. In the UK we got rid of it in my time in government, but it is still the practice of many countries. It means that countries require those who receive their aid to procure goods and services from the donor country. So for example if a country was building up its health service and needed to improve its ambulance service and received aid for this purpose from, say, Germany, France and Britain; it would be required to source some ambulances from Germany some from France and some from Britain and that would mean some parts from each of those countries and would make the whole business of running a fleet of ambulances and maintaining them extremely difficult. That is how tied aid works and I had quite a little battle, inside the UK system, to get rid of it. Sadly many countries are still continuing such practices. And then there is the aid and trade provision, again after a battle in Whitehall, I got rid of it from the UK development program but prior to that, British companies could bid for contracts in poor countries and offer a good price because the aid budget would subsidise the contract. I remember a big battle we had with the Department of trade and industry over a contract to subsidise the cost of land Rovers for the police in Zimbabwe, just as the regime was becoming very oppressive. There was also a major scandal in the Thatcher years over the aid budget being used to subsidise a dubious hydro electric down in Pergau in Malaysia.
And when when there is no scandal or ulterior motive behind the spending of aid, there are still important questions of quality. For example, it used to be common practice to spend money on projects that were fully funded by the donor country. Such projects usually carried There is no doubt that foreign aid works only when one can find reforming partners to work with. It contains the prize of better public financial management for all public resources and leaves behind a sustainable service. the flag of the donor country and inevitably closed down when the funding ran out. This means nothing sustainable is left behind and often the better staff were recruited from the public services of the country and paid a better wage and therefore the local systems were weakened rather than strengthened as a result of the intervention. It is always preferable, when possible, to provide budgetary aid. This means making a commitment over a number of years to contribute money to the education or health budget of the country in order to improve the quality of the service. In this case aid is working as an investment in helping a country improve the quality and scope of its public services, providing a subsidy over 5 or 10 years but then phasing it out in a way which leaves behind it a sustainable public service. Obviously such aid is conditional on agreement to work together to improve public financial management and procurement arrangements but if this can be done is a much better interventions than project aid. The media however tends to be very critical of this kind of aid and to suggest that money will always be wasted or leak into corrupt practices. There is no doubt that this form of aid works only when one can find reforming partners to work with. But it contains the prize of better public financial management for all public resources and leaves behind a sustainable service . However to do this kind of work often means taking on media and political criticism. And in addition such aid tends to diminish the funding that flows through British NGOs, so they can also be a source of criticism.
The most difficult context for aid spending is trying to bring benefits to poor people living under oppressive governments where there are no reformers. In recent years we have been experimenting with making small individual payments to the poorest, which at least means their lives will be a little easier and it may also lift up economic development at the bottom of the economy. I was told a moving story about such payments to some of the poorest families in the massive Kabira ( check) slum in Nairobi; families and some money on food and the rest paid for private education for their children because they knew that the public system so bad. So it would have an example of the poorest of all spending what little they have on education for the next generation in the hope that this will offer them a better future In general we do know that if a generation of children can be educated, including the girls, that they transform their country as they grow up. Girls who have been to school tend to marry later, have less children who are more likely to survive; they enhance family income and are better at getting healthcare and education for their children. So even under oppressive and unacceptable regime, it is right to try to support education because it will bring transformation in the future, but such spending tends to attract strong criticism in the media and sometimes the human rights lobby.
Of course aid must always be provided when there is a humanitarian disaster, starvation, flood or famine. Currently 10% of global aid is spent on humanitarian emergencies. There is an efficient international system which is coordinated by the UN. Goods are pre-positionedThe most difficult context for aid spending is trying to bring benefits to poor people living under oppressive governments where there are no reformers. across the regions of the world; experts can be rapidly deployed to assess need and food can be moved in by the World Food. What the system is less good at, as we have seen in Darfur, is ensuring that people who have been displaced in an emergency are helped to return home. There are other problems, such as the tendency of some countries to provide food aid in kind out of surpluses from their own production, this means that there are difficulties in getting production restarted in a region that has been hit by drought or other disruption of production. It is much better if countries provide cash so that the UN agencies can procure the food is close to the emergency as possible so that people can return to agricultural production as quickly as possible and not end up dependent on handouts.
I hope by now I have given enough example shows that it is wrong to just concentrate on support for aid without attending to the detail and the development questions are mixed up with foreign policy questions. For example in November 2001, a trade round was launched that was called a Development round and was meant to make the whole trading system fairer to developing countries, but it is completely stuck and there has been no progress and therefore for example in Europe and North America, we subsidise agriculture, produce surpluses and then dump them the markets of developing countries at low prices and undermine local agriculture. The least developed countries of the world currently provide less than 2% of world trade, it would be easy to give them free access to our markets unconditionally and this would help their economies to develop. But the generosity is not there to allow this to be done. Similarly, there is much talk of corruption as though this is all generated in developing countries but it was not until 1996 that the OECD recommended that the rich countries should cease to make bribes to public officials abroad tax deductible. I am currently working on the issue of extractive industries–oil, gas and mining–there are major problems to try to ensure that proper returns are made to the countries and people where the Aid is part of our moral duty but it extends beyond aid to the whole of our foreign policy and relationships with other countries in the world. resources originate. I have already referred to the example of Palestine and the use of aid resources to support an unjust political settlement when the EU, including the UK fails to stand up for international law in its foreign policy. Similarly, Western policy propped up the dictatorship in Egypt but provided aid to support the dictatorial regime.
My conclusion is that those who care about international development and the poor of the world must not confine themselves to calling for more aid spending and pursue that the money be well spent and that moral responsibility ends there. The values of a good development policy should inform our foreign policy both for the sake of justice, the relief of suffering and our own self interest. The world is facing major crisis over the next 20 to 30 years if we do not change our priorities. To really open new people will be added to the world total by 2030 and 90% of the new people will be born in the poorest countries at the same time the consequences of climate change will be accumulating; agriculture will be disrupted, desertification will spread in some areas, sea levels will rise, people will have to move, we could face of mounting series of catastrophes that lead to growing conflict and hatred.
The alternative is to make our top foreign policy priority working with others to create a more equitable global settlement, resolve conflicts, reduce poverty and invest you renewable energy systems. We have the knowledge, technology and capital to be able to do this do not seem to have the political will. This is the moral question of our age and currently the political leadership of the world is failing to address these questions. My answer to the question “aid: moral duty or national self interest” is that aid is part of our moral duty but it extends beyond aid to the whole of our foreign policy and relationships with other countries in the world. And what is right, which is to treat each human being as equally precious and equally important, is also in our self-interest because if we continue on the road we are on the future will be pretty bleak for most people.