Can Patel turn the tide on foreign aid?

Published by The Telegraph (22nd September, 2016)

As a devout Remainer, I was disturbed by the EU referendum result. But one silver lining is seeing  Priti Patel running the Department for International Development (Dfid). She is an uncompromising character who has not shied away from criticising Britain’s absurd aid giveaway, even once calling for closure of the ministry she now runs.

She was right then and is right now. Dfid struts around like an offshoot of the charity sector, rather than an arm of government, and should be folded back into the Foreign Office. It has grown bloated at the expense of taxpayers, who help fund the six-figure salaries of charity chiefs and private-sector fat cats milking a global poverty industry worth £100 billion a year.

Ms Patel seems prepared to take them on. Sources say she is starting by trying to shift attitudes, admitting that too much aid is spent on the wrong things or does not reach the world’s poor and needy.

I have seen this countless times on three different continents. Typical was £400 million spent on Montserrat after the devastating volcanic eruption 21 years ago. I found the Caribbean island’s 4,900 remaining residents without a proper port while their temporary hospital was stuck still in an old school. There were four new beach bars, however, built at our expense.

Ms Patel insists her approach will be based on ‘core conservative values’. No doubt she genuinely aims to eliminate waste. But Britain is now mandated by law to spend 0.7 per cent of national income to meet an outmoded United Nations target ignored by most rich nations.

So this year she must give away £12.2 billion – significantly more than goes to the Home Office for things such as border security, counter-terrorism and police. By the next election, that sum will be £16 billion a year, spent regardless of need in a world of diminishing poverty.

The idea of prioritising spending over results does not chime with any conservative values. It simply encourages the sort of dependency culture abroad that ministers seek to stop at home. And it ignores experts, who insist aid worsens the problems of poor countries, since they do not have government systems able to handle huge philanthropic handouts.

Ms Patel wants to encourage free enterprise, which is laudable. But she will have her work cut out: such schemes are some of the most abused, not least since results are hard to quantify. One insider told me of a costly project to promote business in Nigeria that involved holding workshops for state governors in smart hotels.Afterwards, it was said that 10,000 small firms had been influenced, revealing how Dfid inflates its ludicrous claims of success. This is the kind of nonsense Ms Patel should confront.

She should also challenge Theresa May, who has just told the United Nations that our cash stems migrant flows. This just hoodwinks voters. Refugees want to work, not live on demeaning and inadequate handouts, while rising prosperity actually leads to more economic migrants, as they can fund their escape to dream destinations seen on newly acquired smartphones and televisions.

The swelling tide of aid actually makes people more likely to move. It encourages corruption, fosters conflict and undermines good governance, since politicians have less need to respond to local people when cash floods in from foreign donors.

Mrs May has this week boasted to the UN about our help for Ethiopia, yet Britain puts £340 million a year into a one-party state currently killing, jailing and torturing protesters from the biggest ethnic groups – and repression is a key motor of migration.

Ms Patel will run a sceptical eye over this daft and debilitating spending – which is essential, since Britain’s giveaway is growing even bigger. Brexit means another £1.2 billion, which we currently give to Brussels to disburse in even more cackhanded style than we do, gets diverted back through Whitehall. She may still be part of a government trapped by dire policies from the past, but at least she seems to have the right intentions.

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