Two good articles on MFAT and NZ Aid. Fran O’Sullivan has a look at MFAT and what the (yet to be announced) appointment of John Allen means. Fran says:

The commission’s panel was encouraged to look at the top MFat job in an “expansive way” and select a new chief executive who could (and this is the most important point) provide leadership for New Zealand – not just the Foreign Affairs Ministry – to help propel a much more aggressive approach offshore.

Fran says it is about getting less silos and better co-operations from not just MFAT, but also NZT&E, Immigration Service, Education NZ, and Tourism NZ.

Meanwhile in the Dom Post, Nick Venter looks at NZ Aid:

He starts with why NZ Aid was made semi-autonomous:

Eight years ago an independent review of New Zealand’s  aid programme raised major  concerns about the way aid  money was distributed.

The reviewers reported that the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry, which administered the aid programme, regarded aid as “an instrument of foreign policy”, that almost a quarter of the total aid budget of $250 million was spent on tertiary education scholarships – despite poor completion rates and the failure of many students to return home.

The ministry had used $500,000 of aid money to relocate the Samoan Department of Lands, Surveys and Environment so a new New Zealand high commission could be built, that the ministry used its development agency as a “dumping ground for non-performers” and that there was no “formal documented system of analysis or defined criteria used for determining the annual allocation process”.

McCully says:

“You don’t make changes like this if you don’t have to,” he said. “But in terms of the audit reports that have been brought down and some of the examples that I have looked at, over months now, I made up my own mind that I wasn’t going to carry the can for those things.”

Mr McCully has publicly questioned NZAid’s priorities, the amount of money it puts into “unproductive” regional bureaucracies, the size of its staff (281) and the proportion of the aid budget spent on internal overheads (about 8 per cent), but concern about accountability persuaded him to put it back under the umbrella of the ministry.

He says the agency, headed throughout its existence by former diplomat Peter Adams, wrongly assumed that being a semi-autonomous body entitled it to operate outside the normal state sector controls. “NZAid looked at the word autonomous and ignored the word semi.”

One of the consequences was that NZAid did not tell the ministry things it needed to know, “sometimes involving large amounts of money or serious matters of national interest”.

McCully also seems to think overheads were too high:

Mr McCully said he had also been concerned by NZAid’s response to questioning of its overheads. “I was annoyed to find that we were running overheads that were about 8 per cent of the total budget and that NZAid regarded themselves as being immune from any sort of scrutiny in that respect.

At a time when I was putting MFAT through the wringer, I was being told that NZAid were not open to that degree of scrutiny because we just gave them a bulk number and they decided how much of it was going to be overheads . . . . When I said, ‘Okay, presumably that will go down quite a lot when the budget goes up to $600 million,’ I was told, ‘No, it will go up to 9 per cent.’ I said, ‘How is that?’ They said, ‘That is just what we have decided.’ “

The story also focuses on what the goal should be:

He is also sharply critical of Mr McCully’s decision to abandon the poverty alleviation focus favoured by other Western governments as well as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

“Economic development is an important contributor to poverty alleviation, but it’s a means to an end, not an end itself.

“The key to poverty alleviation is benefiting those most in need. Traditionally the elites benefit when money is pumped in with an economic development focus. You achieve poverty alleviation through investment in education, health, literacy and governance.”

Mr McCully, who has described poverty alleviation as a “rather nebulous concept”, says the success of the new focus will be measurable in, among other things, improved trade statistics.

“It is unacceptable that we should be exporting a billion dollars worth of goods to the Pacific and having empty ships coming back here. It shows that we are spending too much of our money on stuff that might help alleviate poverty this year but it does not do anything about next year and the year after.”

One thing is for sure – all eyes will be focused on NZ Aid for the next few years.

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