Their website and campaign is called “Don’t corrupt Aid”. That is (in my opinion) a tactical blunder to use such inflammatory language. If they think that will help convince key Ministers.
But regardless of their silly title, what are the issues. There appear to be three:
- Should the aim of NZ Aid be “poverty elimination” to “economic development”?
- Should aid policy be independent of foreign policy?
- Should NZ Aid remain a semi-autonomous body or be fully reintegrated back into MFAT?
Now the NGOs lobbying for their point of view are all massive recepients of funding from NZ Aid, so there is a certain amount of vested interests at work. And not all aid NGOs are supporting the campaign – I note the Red Cross is not a participant. Anyway to the issues:
Poverty Elimination vs Economic Development
I think this issue is much ado about nothing. Both are about the same thing – helping citizens of less developed countries having a higher standard of living. You eliminate poverty through economic development. No one has ever found any other way to do it.
Murray McCully has said you could throw dollar notes out of a helicopter and call that poverty elimination. Now he never said this is what NZ Aid is doing (his critics who claim this are being dishonest) – he said the goal is too wide, as it would allow that.
So really I just see it as saying we want poverty elimination through economic development.
Some of the NGOs claim economic development will mean the money goes to wealthy elites, instead of the poor. They seem to be caught up in socialist rhetoric.
Aid Policy vs Foreign Policy
Let me let you into a secret. No matter what the Government says publicly, aid policy is always tied into a country’s foreign policy. Look at what AusAid says:
The aim of the program is to assist developing countries reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development, in line with Australia’s national interest.
Why is most of our aid money spent in the Pacific? Because that is where it most serves our national interest. If were not worried about NZ’s national interest, we would then pick the country most in need, and give them 100% of our aid budget. There is a reason we spread it around various countries and regions.
So when the campaign says aid policy should not be “corrupted” by foreign policy, it is nonsense. Every government on Earth “corrupts” their aid that way. Some may not admit it, but they all do. And frankly it is bizarre to suggest we should give money out in a way where we ignore NZ’s interests.
Should NZ Aid remain semi-autonomous?
Here is where I largely agree with the NGOs. I am open to persuasion, but it seems to me you can achive what you want (in terms of new focus) without doing a full merger back into MFAT. I suspect the costs will be significant, it will mean many staff spend all their time on structural and systems changes instead of actual Aid delivery, and may dilute focus.
NZ Aid is not fully autonomous. It’s Director is appointed by the MFAT Chief Executive, and if there are concerns about whether NZ Aid is taking into account foreign policy goals sufficiently – then that can be dealt with by way of instruction and delegations to the Director of NZ Aid.
Having said that, I am open to persuasion, and look forward to seeing what the SSC reviews say are the costs and benefits.