Pagani on NZ Aid

, a former Comms Manager at , writes on aid politics:

Foreign Minister Murray McCully is close to announcing a u-turn in New Zealand’s aid. He wants to move our aid away from its goal of reducing extreme poverty, back towards a less defined goal of “economic development”.

I would hope the two goals are complementary, not in opposition to each other.

The difference between “poverty alleviation” and “economic development” in some of the poorest countries is not a bright line. How are you meant to set up your own business and trade your way out of poverty when you can’t read and write, and you have no clean water and no roof over your head?

I would advocate that aid which provides shelter, food and water is part of economic development as you can’t have people contributing towards an economy without these things.

This proposed change in our aid represents misguided politics. It has been pitched by Mr McCully as a struggle between the non-government organisations like Oxfam and World Vision, who want the focus to remain on poverty reduction; and those who support business, and economic development instead.

This is a false dichotomy.

It’s true, there is some silliness in the aid community. Some aid experts don’t believe in growth – that’s why you end up with incomprehensible policy areas called “pro-poor-growth”.

This is one of the things I like about Josie – she is willing to concede “silliness” rather than pretend everything is perfect with the status quo.

It took years of political effort to make poverty reduction the focus of aid. The goal holds rich countries accountable.

For example, it stops countries like Portugal or France using aid to protect the Portuguese or the French language in their former colonies. That might be a great idea, but it isn’t aid.

But Mr McCully couldn’t say that encouraging the French language in Cote d’Ivoire isn’t contributing to economic development. The focus on poverty also holds the governments of poor countries accountable for using aid to actually reduce poverty. Signing up to a goal of “poverty reduction” is more likely to prevent the kind of situation in Ethiopia a few years ago – then, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi used funds to set up a trucking business (“economic development”) to deliver food across the country.

The company was owned by his own family, and tended to deliver food only to Zenawi’s home region of Tigray, while other parts of Ethiopia went hungry.

I would hope that NZ Aid wil avoid giving money to corrupt politicians, regardless of its mission. Mind you, in the Pacific it is probably near impossible. I recall the Austrian DFAT briefing that described one Pacific Premier as having a nickname of Mr 10% as that was his cut on all government contracts.

We give aid because we are good global citizens, doing our part to make a difference for the most desperately poor in the world.

Mr McCully should keep the focus strongly on poverty reduction, and keep NZAID as a dedicated agency with an undiluted focus on doing our bit towards that very important goal.

I wonder if there is not some sort of compromise here, such as an aim of “poverty reduction through economic development” as that would cover the Minister’s worry that the cirrent goal is too wide, and also cove the concerns of Pagani and others than not all economic development alleviates poverty?

UPDATE: I should point out (as should have the Herald) that Josie was No 3 on the party list for the Progressive Party at last year’s election.

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