International Aid: It's not just corrupt regimes that are a problem

By Bernadette Meaden
November 24, 2011

Increases in Britain’s aid budget have been typically characterised by the Daily Mail among others as ‘pouring billions of pounds of new aid money into some of the world’s most corrupt regimes.’

Their perspective may appear supported by the report from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which says that because the Department For International Development (DFID) is targeting fragile states, it may "expose UK aid to higher levels of corruption risk".

But this is not an excuse to cut aid to the world’s poorest people. As Oxfam pointed out in their response to the report, "People in need should not be denied help because of the dishonesty of others."

DFID pointed out that money will not go directly to governments, but be delivered through other bodies, such as the World Bank. This was not as reassuring as they perhaps thought it would be. The World Bank does not have a glittering track record in making life better for the poorest people in the world.

In their 2010 book, ‘Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel’ Felix Padel and Samarendra Das are scathing of the part that both organisations have played in India. Working closely with the World Bank, DFID has helped pave the way for multinational mining companies to make large profits whilst pillaging the environment, damaging water supplies and food security.

The book’s authors assert, "Odisha has a wealth of natural resources and a wealth of cultures that are being invaded and desecrated as a direct result of the liberalisation programme DFID has imposed on Odisha."(p.454)

The authors also allege that despite making all the right noises about sustainability, DFID seems to view all industrialisation, no matter how damaging, as progress. A growth in a country’s GDP must be a good thing, no matter how little the people of the country actually benefit, or how much their environment suffers.

It is not just in India that DFID, in conjunction with the World Bank, has pursued policies one would not readily associate with development aims. Peter Hardstaff, of the World Development Movement, has stated "DFID has become a key player in pushing water privatisation across the world"..

One hopes that DFID will not continue with this approach, but on the Department’s own website we find:
"The Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund (EAIF) is a public-private partnership providing long-term debt finance for the construction and development of private infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa. EAIF offers …lending to private companies (or soon to be privatised companies)."

Follow the links and you find that EAIF is a limited liability company registered in Mauritius. This is probably not the kind of organisation most people have in mind when they think of overseas aid.

To be fair, some of the investments it has made so far look quite laudable, such as geothermal and solar energy projects. Given what Padel and Das have revealed about activities in India though, one imagines that a degree of vigilance would be in order.

Whilst we need to make sure that the UK’s aid money doesn’t go into the Swiss bank accounts of corrupt politicians, we also need to make sure it doesn’t go to help multinationals exploit native peoples and ruin their environment. We want our aid to make life better for the world’s poorest people, not aid and abet capitalism’s robber barons.


© Bernadette Meaden has written about religious, political and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement.

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