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Comments

NigelC

I am inclined to agree; these smaller local organisations are more liklely (gross generalisation) to understand the real issues and have smaller organisational overheads.
People want to see their money making a real difference and object to huge bureaucracies syphoning off funds.
Does Voluntary Service Overseas organisation still function?
Would some form of controls be needed to vet organisations and their aims?

Denis Cooper

No. Firstly, a charity is no longer a charity if it asks for or accepts taxpayers' money - the essence of charity being that it is entirely voluntary. Secondly, any organisation receiving and disbursing public money must be fully accountable to the public. Thirdly, some of these aid organisations are themselves little better than the governments of the countries receiving aid. Fourthly, many of these organisations are using their funds without any serious consideration of the long term consequences of their actions - ie they are fuelling excessive population growth and not only perpetuating but exacerbating poverty. If as a matter of UK government policy UK taxpayers' money is to be sent to foreign countries, then whenever possible its disbursement should be directly and closely controlled by UK government agencies accountable to the UK Parliament.

aristeides

Denis has made all the points I was going to. He is absolutely right. This is not a good idea.

NigelC

Denis,
1) How does accepting money (with no strings attached) stop a charity being voluntary? I am missing your point so could you expand.
2)The Government would be accountable for dispersement. If we don't like how they distribute our money we vote against them. I do not understand how this point relates to the organisation we would fund being being NGOs. We have little democratic control over money we give to the World Bank, UN etc
3)so it make no difference who we give the money to (NGOs or Governments)
4) the aims and objectives could be monitorred carefully.

Is your point that only disbursement "directly and closely controlled by UK government agencies accountable to the UK Parliament" is allowable and so we should stop funnelling money via the UN and World bank?

I have no axe to grind here and am not an expert but , anecdotally, the current system seem quite wasteful

Mark Wadsworth

This suggestion sort of misses the bigger question of whether there is any point to third world aid at all.

Seeing that the West has been channelling huge sums of money to the same old coutries for half a century without any apparent success, would it not be better to go on the other tack and completely open up free trade with all countries, irrespective of whether we like the people in charge?

One dollar spend on goods from Africa is one dollar that stays in Africa and one dollar's worth of goods for us. It costs us nothing.

One dollar of aid costs two dollars to raise, half of the one dollar usually goes back to the donor country, of the fifty cents left, half goes into a despot's Swiss bank account and so on.

Charities have no better a record than governments in this regard, this is just window dressing.

aristeides

NigelC - I'll take the liberty of taking up some of the points you raise with Denis.

1) If I want to make a payment to a charity, it is voluntary. If the government taxes me and then gives the money to charity, it is not voluntary. The latter is what is proposed.

2) The fact that we have little democratic control over the money we give to the UN, World Bank etc is the very reason why we should not then be giving money to other NGOs with equally little control. Subs to those organisations do come with the small benefit of having representation in them, in our case at the highest levels.

3) I think that is probably best addressed by Mark Wadworth's comment above. It does not seem to have made much difference to date which one gives money to, but for completely different reasons.

4) This is surely not the first time that the promise would be made that "the aims and objectives would be closely monitored". This promise is made with every project and appeal there has ever been, and it is broken with exactly the same consistency.

I would also recommend looking at zombietime.com to see the shenanigans of the Red Cross, the sort of NGO that would benefit from this policy.

NigelC

Thanks for clarifications.

Denis Cooper

Thanks from me, too!

Angelo Basu

There are two distinct strands to the 100 policies concept as far as I can tell. One is to consider in detail policies for their merits as ones which the party could adopt and the other is to come up with policies which will be attractive to voters and help to win the next election. Ideally these should both lead to the same conclusion, but it is not a foregone conclusion.

As a matter of principle it is a very difficult question whether any overseas aid is worthwhile- there is certainly a lot of evidence of corruption and waste (if we worry about waste and inefficiency in respect of OUR public services, it doesn't take a lot of imagining to realise that paying for public projects in countries which have fewer effective controls and much, much higher levels of endemic corruption is at best going to be hugely inefficient). However, for a country which has supported the concept and practice of militarily enforced regime change, it is difficult to wash our hands entirely of problems in other less advantaged countries.

On this basis, the proposal is a good one, because even if respected NGOs might be corrupt, they will invariably be less corrupt than the weak or bloody states they operate in. If we are going to give foreign aid, then at least do it in the least worst way which does not involve us having to go and do the work ourselves as a state (ie benign recolonisation?).

However, it is on the second criterion that the policy really works best. Even if people claim to be disengaged from politics, more and more have strong feelings about aid, charity and helping the third world. As the formerly nasty party, which wasn't even trusted to care about "vulnerable" British people, it must be an attractive and relatively cheap way to win support to take this sort of stance which allows us to condemn corrupt governments without going to war with "the angels" who support NGOs.

Will

Many of the comments above highlight inefficiencies of the current aid structure. I have to agree, since the 1960 over $2 trillion of international aid has flowed into Africa with very little success. Whether or not the above policy will change this is questionable.

On one hand, a number of international charities have come up with some great ground level ideas to tackle poverty at the ground level, Oxfam's Unwrapped and the buy a goat scheme (amongst others) have identified problems and come up with imaginative and effective solutions. One of the most important reasons this has worked is because Oxfam is selling a product in a market. If it came out that the project was ineffective at tackling poverty, people would stop purchasing goats and the product would die. Compare that with the World Bank in which the 1990's only audited one quarter of its own projects. Resultingly poor projects failed to be axed and many were never fully assessed.

On the other hand, charities historically have excelled in building up projects from the ground up and tend to fail when trying to implement large scale ideas. Whether NGO's and charities can effectively implement schemes for instance large scale AID's immunisations is questionable.

Personally I believe the Conservatives should place themselves at the heart of the creations of an international environment conducive to promoting economic growth, namely by tackling EU and US protectionism and ending international dumping on developing countries. These policies combine to disincentivise self-sustaining economic development. I remain sceptical of the potential of large scale aid transfers and particular Western interference resulting from conditionality attached to these aid transfers.

Richard

While I am of the opinion that foreign aid ought to be voluntarily, as long as we have tax-funded aid I would rather it was spent more efficiently. I think that this policy is more likely to achieve that.

Gildas

While I am of the opinion that foreign aid ought to be voluntarily, as long as we have tax-funded aid I would rather it was spent more efficiently. I think that this policy is more likely to achieve that.

The problem is that NGOs have their own agendas and money is fungible. Giving Oxfam (the sort of 'respectable'* NGO that would get used in this sort of policy) money to spend on aid to Country X effectively gives them money to spend on their own pet projects.

* They are of course anything but.

John Peters

I am going to vote in support only because I agree with the sentiments behind this proposal, but it seems too vague as it stands. Which specific donations would be stopped? Aid is rarely straightforward. Government to government aid is almost invariably linked to debt repayments and/or to trade or work by British companies. What happens if a country claims that the aid funds education or health? How many charities and NGOs are equipped for a massive rise in funds? Even the best-run could not deal with large, sudden increases.
There's a real need for detail. I don't think this is an actual policy yet, more just a principle on which to construct one.

Bob

This rather misses the point. Rather than feeding hand-outs of taxpayers cash to charities of Government's choice, the policy ought to be to scrap the aid budget altogether. It would then be up to individuals to allocate their charitable giving if, and as, they see fit.

Automated Robot

This is an excellent area for policy review (anyone for 'Son of Gershon'?).

The impact of Foreign Aid is not limited to the ultimate recipient. Each step in the Foreign Aid 'supply chain' (collection, amounts, kind, delivery etc.) is configured by the funding process and there are excellent questions to be asked about their fitness for use.

For example, the current US administration's policy of direct funding of AIDS to countries such as Uganda (effectively bypassing the UN) has provoked much fury and debate within the UN. It has also highlighted the deficiency of other large international programs that joined them in criticising the US (notably Mrs Kinnock and the EU).

However, the national government dynamic is different: disengaging them from the supply chain (bypassing with direct aid to smaller bodies) removes the chance to influence them through "conditional aid". This must feature surely in any list of sustainable aid objectives.

The balance of aid should pass through the hands of national governments: for this reason (and a lack of clarity about the balance) I will not support this proposal.

Alison Anne Smith

" the policy ought to be to scrap the aid budget altogether. It would then be up to individuals to allocate their charitable giving if, and as, they see fit."

Then the dogs, cats & donkeys of the world would be OK whilst humans would starve to death or die of preventable diseases. International Aid is essential for our civilised country, but I agree with the proposal to make sure that the funds reach their intended target.

johnC

The decision to change the emphasis of funding from NGOs to governments was made by Claire Short and based on political prejudice rather than any empirical evidence that African governments were less incompetent, less corrupt or less prone to waste the money than before. In my humble opinion the best way of providing overseas aid would be by grants to major (preferably British) companies to complete infrastructure programs such as roads, electricity and water supply networks, or school and hospital construction. Future grants would be based on performance. Unfortunately DFID like most of the civil service seems to be biased and prejudiced against the private sector.

aristeides

This has clearly struck a chord and been approved. It is a bit disappointing as the last thing we should be doing is handing over huge sums of cash to organisations which are, when all is said and done, staffed almost entirely by our political adversaries. I hope this gets some radical surgery in the wiki stage.

Alison Anne Smith

"a bit disappointing as the last thing we should be doing is handing over huge sums of cash to organisations which are, when all is said and done, staffed almost entirely by our political adversaries"

If we take this view there would be no state funding for schools or hospitals either.

Caroline

If only it could work this way...

A corrupt government tends lead to corrupt societies. Corrupt states to not allow civil society as we know it. There are too many small NGOs set up for status reasons or to look good on some westerners CV. This often leads to NGOs with similar aims working against each other.

I'm not sure but wouldn't there be legal problems if these NGOs had political ambitions, which is often the case?

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