Today we’re fond of Andrew Mitchell
There are interesting things happening in London. The economic sky is falling, so the governing coalition just introduced a very hard-nosed budget, to say the least. It calls for cuts across the board of 25% over 5 years. Civil servants are facing pay cuts and lay offs, and every single government program will be reviewed. Only two exceptions stand out, the National Health Service (which shows that the UK is not the only country where health care is the third rail of domestic politics) and the foreign aid budget.
I can imagine there are some stunned looks across Whitehall as senior mandarins try to figure out how DFID was spared the axe. I’ve not heard or read yet what inspired the cabinet to take this decision, but I can guess at a few good reasons. For example, it’s considered to be a very well run department. Over the last ten years, DFID has undergone a remarkable organizational transformation that is the envy of other aid agencies. It is widely seen as a leading light when compared to the USAIDs and CIDAs of the world. But a recent National Audit Office report heavily criticized DFID’s focus on education and the envious looks of other aid agencies probably mean nothing at 10 Downing Street. More likely, the department was ring-fenced because Labour locked in a legal binding pledge to meet the goal of increasing international aid to 0.7% of GDP. Sure, the government could just as easily legislate their way out of that, but it would be messy and ugly and internationally painful.
But the really interesting thing is not this reprieve from the Chancellor’s axe. It’s that the Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell is launching a wholesale review of how DFID spends it money and where. Right off the bat he stated that China and Russia are out (they do have space programs, after all) and there would be a greater emphasis on the poorest nations.
And then there’s this gem: Mitchell is scrutinizing how the multilaterals such as the World Bank spend UK’s aid money. He’s demanding that these agencies “have a proven impact on the ground” and “ share our aims and have a proven track record of delivering results”. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? If you want our money (in the UK’s case, £3bn a year, half of its aid budget) then show us what you made better.
But here’s the problem. Most of these agencies (we’re looking at you UNDP) don’t measure anything, and if they did the results would be shocking. In many cases they simply can’t tell the UK what their money accomplished since they very cleverly launder it through “fungible” trust funds that make it impossible to tell which donor paid for the $45m in overpriced foreign consultants and which donors covered the $45k in actual useful work.
So, here’s to you Andrew Mitchell. Ask questions. Demand answers. And when they don’t come, send your money elsewhere. Because what the developing world needs is not just more money, it needs money well spent.