Even champions of foreign aid admit handouts are ‘pointless’ so why keep pumping in billions?

Published by The Sun (August 31st, 2022)

Rory Stewart is an engaging fellow who admits he was never cut out for life as a politician.

“It brings out the worst in me,” the former Tory minister – who once had a crack at becoming party leader – said this week. “I thought it was bad for my brain, my body, my soul.”

Perhaps he should have been more honest with the public while in government.

He did, after all, spend almost three years in the late and unlamented Department for International Development, spraying vast sums of taxpayers’ money around the world on absurd projects that he now admits were often “wasteful and paternalistic”.

This might seem a shocking admission — especially when he also told the BBC that “a lot” of what he did in his ministerial role was a “waste of time”.

Yet shortly before he joined the Cabinet in May 2019 as DFID Secretary, Stewart made a similar scathing critique of Britain’s dismal aid policies in a lecture, saying that “not a great deal has been achieved” with the billions doled out annually.

He argued that it was wrong to believe Westminster could use development cash to impose stability in conflict-ridden states, dismissed the fashionable idea that foreign donations can create jobs in poor places and highlighted several examples of quite scandalous waste.

This included Britain giving £4.5billion over half a century to the impoverished African nation of Malawi, a country corroded by corruption and bad governance, although it ended up “if anything, poorer than it was when we started”, he told Yale University.

Both times he was right to make such damning criticism. Britain’s aid policies are at best farcical, at worst a fraud perpetuated on the public by foolish politicians who pretend they are saving the world when billions are frittered away.

Yet when he was in office, Stewart pushed the same failed policies as his predecessors.

For a consensus coalesced around the concept of aid in a deluded belief that it made a despised political elite at Westminster look a bit more caring.

Instead they just look callow. It exposes their naivety about development, grotesque complacency about dictatorship and a contemptible refusal to listen to a disgruntled electorate.

We spent £11.5billion on foreign aid in 2021.

It is not surprising many voters, facing the worst cost-of- living crisis most can remember, are puzzled to see their hard-earned cash go to help African despots – even a blood-stained Rwandan dictatorshipthat sponsors Arsenal.

And they wonder why, as our social care is crippled by chronic underfunding, that their taxes have been used to assist officials of brutal regimes in China and North Korea.

Westminster politicians love to cloak themselves in compassion, cheered on by the bloated and self-serving aid industry led by fat cats such as former Labour minister David Miliband.

Incredibly, Miliband earns more than $1million a year as the grandly titled president of International Rescue Committee — a major recipient of British aid – while begging for funds.

Or trawl the accounts of Save the Children International, another charity constantly demanding cash, and you will find an astonishing 82 staff on six-figure packages with at least six more UK-based executives earning more than £100,000. Presumably these folks can brush off any cost-of-living crisis.

Yet only this week the charity — still restoring its reputation from sex scandal — was bemoaning that budgets for overseas aid projects are being slashed and children’s welfare risked due to funds used to assist the costs of Ukrainian refugees in Britain.

This sector howled with outrage when the Government finally ditched the absurd and outdated aid target — although it was, sadly, only a temporary cut from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of gross national income to help cover the costs of the pandemic.

Hopefully Liz Truss, if elected PM, will resist those siren voices to restore the target.

Unfortunately, aid is largely an illusion, as Stewart admitted. It would be lovely if it worked. But it merely creates the false impression there are simple solutions to some of the world’s most complex and intractable problems.

As even a Nobel-winning economist has argued, it is damaging to pour aid into badly run nations.

If governments are dodgy — whether due to theft, incompetence or despotism — floods of foreign money can simply inflame their systemic problems, foster conflict and can actually undermine democracy. Just look at the two-decade debacle of Afghanistan to see the lethal impact in a fragile, conflict-riven country.

At times, Western aid was worth more than the entire economy. Yet donors ignored electoral fraud, trafficking of child sex slaves and creation of a grotesquely corrupt mafia state, thereby assisting the Taliban’s return.

If aid worked, I would not begrudge assisting those most in need.

But whatever politicians might argue, whatever bogus statistics they spew out, do not be fooled into thinking the biggest beneficiaries are the most impoverished or the brave activists risking lives and liberty for democracy.

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