Britain’s foreign aid budget is indefensible

Published by The Times (January 16th, 2018)

Poor old Penny Mordaunt. She makes the cabinet after eight years in parliament only to be handed the poisoned chalice of defending Britain’s absurd £13.4 billion aid budget. Now she must explain to a sceptical electorate why she is pouring their money into daft projects around the planet while a cash-strapped health service cancels operations at home.

Ms Mordaunt has set out her stall with an article in The Daily Telegraph outlining her aims in this thankless post. In it she parrots the usual clichés about efficiency. She speaks the standard neocolonial language of an arrogant sector that claims to be saving the world. And she pretends it is in Britain’s interests to fund welfare dependency in foreign parts.

It is hard not to laugh when she says experts from her Department for International Development (Dfid) will help those pesky foreigners manage public services better and reform tax systems. Her ministry has a dismal record of ignoring corruption and massive waste unless exposed by whistleblowers and journalists. This is the same department that fuels a system in which fat cat charity chiefs and private sector companies milk the taxpayer with six-figure pay packages. And let us not forget the biggest specialist private sector contractor has just had to clear out senior staff after being caught deceiving MPs and doing dirty tricks to win contracts.

Such corruption is the inevitable consequence of setting a random aid target that rises with national income at a time when poverty is declining worldwide thanks to capitalism, scientific advance and technological change. Those billions must be shovelled out of the departmental door, regardless of need, and ministers such as Ms Mordaunt must defend the indefensible while spewing out meaningless statistics.

Hence the pretence that poverty is eradicated by ceaseless conferences, that workshops boost free markets, that the West knows best. Money is pumped into some of the world’s most repellent regimes, undermining those risking their lives for democracy. And far from building “sustainable health and education systems”, huge sums of cash from outsiders corrode the need to meet the demands of local people while more goes on guns and rockets.

Look at Uganda, where a corrupt leader overturns term limits after 31 years in power, detains rivals, cracks down on free expression and runs an appalling health service that is slashing budgets. He spends heavily on defence, of course. Dfid officials privately accept corruption is “a major obstacle to development”. But hey, we are chucking in another £105 million this year. Another drop in Ms Mordaunt’s ocean of aid.

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