The British coalition government has sparked debate over plans to withhold aid from countries rich in natural resources, whose leaders are believed to be diverting wealth away from their people. The head of the Department for International Development (DFID), Andrew Mitchell MP says the move is designed to protect the British taxpayer. ‘If our taxpayers are supporting poverty reduction strategies in countries with significant resources interests that are not being used in the people’s interest, that will bring our use of taxpayers’ money into massive disrepute.’
Sierra Leone, which has been receiving substantial sums of aid from Britain since 2000, is facing particular scrutiny. The West African nation’s governing party, the All People’s Congress (APC), is accused of engaging in corrupt mining deals. Mitchell warns: ‘I’m watching particularly carefully how Sierra Leone intends to exploit its mineral (wealth). It is an important issue that requires openness and transparency and if not I am prepared to act.’
Plans to refocus DFID’s aid budget became public in June of this year, when the department announced that it would scrutinise those countries currently receiving a portion of the GBP2.9bn that the UK sets aside for bilateral aid. The move is designed to offer greater assistance to the world’s poorest countries. Yet the cuts have fuelled apprehension, particularly from charities such as Oxfam, Christian Aid and Save the Children who are reported to have accessed a leaked email in which Mitchell revealed he could drop in excess of 80 pledges. The charities have sent a joint letter to the secretary of state, emphasising their concern that if the development commitments were to be dropped this would impact on both DFID’s work and also those who are in desperate need of aid. DFID is suspected of buckling under intensifying pressures from the coalition government, which could leave the world’s most vulnerable people at risk of extreme poverty.
However, Mitchell rebuffs the critics by asserting that DFID is simply concerned with improving transparency: ‘Achieving transparency in the exploitation of mineral resources is one of the most fundamental aspects of development,’ he says.