The problem with aid

The problem with aid

by / Comments Off / 37 View / 16th October 2009

koroma and milliband

When the announcement of a conference in London to ‘showcase Sierra Leonean progress to investors and donors from around the world’ was made last month it ignited the debate on aid once again.

Because, the conference would be about aid; frankly no serious investor would put substantial money into Sierra Leone at this point in time given the frightening security situation in the country and the other inadequate legal, energy and other provisions necessary for business to thrive.

The offices of President Ernest Koroma and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair jointly announced the conference to be held on the 18th and 19th November ’09 to create a sense of unity of purpose, and to demonstrate true and equal partnership. But is that really the case?

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When questioned on the BBC in July over how £50 million of aid money to Sierra Leone from the British taxpayer was spent in ’08, a sheepish looking President Koroma was lost for words, and instead called for dialogue with the donor community on the use of funds.

Actually, if the president had done his home work well he would have known that for fiscal 07/08 the British taxpayer through DFID gave Sierra Leone £54million.  Of that amount £13million was given to the APC Government as direct budgetary support.  The rest of that money was spent by DFID in various ways.

A similar story goes for 08/09 fiscal; approximately £47million donated by Britain, only £10million goes to the government to spend as they wish, the rest of the £37million is spent by DFID officials in the country as they wish also.

That is part of the story of the AID business; an unequal partnership where the giving party spends the bulk of the money, on whatever they judge deserves attention and the government gets a relatively small take to spend on its own projects. It’s almost like taking over the sovereignty of a nation spending what is by right the receiving country’s money.

President Kagame drew attention to this problem early this week when he said ‘aid leads to dependence, the desire of the giving countries to control the receiving countries’.

Not only that, giving countries are reluctant to say where they are spending their own share; when asked to give a breakdown on where £43million was spent in the 07/08 fiscal year in Sierra Leone, a DFID official refused to divulge that information, which goes against the Paris Declaration that focuses on building ‘mutual accountability’ between donors and state.

It also flies in the face of a DFID sponsored report in ’08 titled ‘innovations in accountability and transparency through citizen engagement – the role of donors in supporting and sustaining change’.

That report clearly states that ‘improved transparency in the use of public funds are central to the enhancing of the material wellbeing of poor citizens and promoting sustained economic growth in the pursuit of the millennium development goals’.

The report also says that ‘improved accountability is also integral to deepening democracy and participation by inducing responsible leadership on the part of public officials’.

DFID is always keen to stress that ‘UK Aid has helped bring peace and stability to the country following 10 years of brutal conflict’.

The reality is that despite the UK spending £57.7m in Aid last year to Sierra Leone, the country remains one of the poorest and most corrupt in the world.  According to findings in a BBC news report, children are being expelled or excluded from schools as they cannot afford to pay their fees.

Aid is also being poured into health care, yet millions of children are still dying from preventable and curable diseases due to mismanagement and misappropriation of free medicine and medicine aids.

An investigation also by BBC journalists and other independent media revealed that many pharmacies are selling drugs that are clearly marked by UN children’s fund, (Unicef) ‘Not for resale.’

In an interview with the former Health minister Dr Soccoh Alex Kabia, he said that it was ‘regrettable’ children are dying and that the government does not encourage the selling of drugs.  He said he is aware of some ‘misappropriation’ of supplies but a task force had been put together to monitor where the drugs are going.

What seems clear is that aid is financing the lifestyle of those people who work in the health industry and not those who use or need the services.  For example, the Ministry of Health have purchased 1800 4-wheel drives for the use of administration staff but have only purchased 4 ambulances.  This seems to be the case in all other departments of government.

DFID have set up a funding package of £2m to implement an anti-corruption strategy to help the government and people of Sierra Leone fight corruption.

During a BBC interview with Mark Doyle, President Ernest Bai Koroma said that his government had taken a ‘tough stance’ against corruption.

In his ‘07 inaugural speech Koroma gave the impression that there would be a zero tolerance approach to corruption and stated that if there was any clear evidence of corruption from officials, they would be sacked or relieved of their duties.

However, the AAC can only go so far in pointing out any irregularities.  For example, the former minister of energy and power Afsatu Kabbah was reprimanded for improper procurement procedures relating to energy provisions but was never charged.

Also, Koroma signed an ‘Asset declaration’ when he came to public office but any properties or businesses owned by Koroma have not been made public.  In fact, Koroma was asked repeatedly in a BBC programme how many houses he has got, he refused to say.  The disclosures are held by the AAC and are not open to scrutiny by the public.

Transparency is necessary if aid is to be allocated efficiently and effectively in order to have the greatest impact on as many people as possible as the DFID sponsored report suggested.

Donors and partners need to know the results of aid and therefore be able to hold each other to account.  When it was put to Koroma on the BBC interview that he had spent £50miilion of British aid money on absolutely nothing in the interest of the people he couldn’t defend himself.

What he could have said was that most of the £54million in question was spent by British agents in Freetown.  £41million of it to be exact spent on whatever took the fancy of DFID officials on the ground in Sierra Leone.

Aid should promote long-term changes so that poor countries escape from Aid dependency rather than unsustainable quick fixes that simply store up problems for the next generation.

African economist and author Dambisa Moyo, argues that Aid is not a solution but is in fact the problem.  It has become what Moyo describes as a ‘self perpetuating industry.’  She believes that policy makers and politicians know that the aid system does not work.  The evidence she uses to back her claim is that in 1970, 10% of Africans lived in poverty, and now it’s more like 70% and in many countries the figures rise as high as 85%.

Moyo advocates the withdrawal of Aid in the near future as giving out free money does not act as an incentive to governments and it is governments not donors that should become accountable to their people.

It is clear from the evidence presented, that UK aid at least in its present form is neither viable nor sustainable.  In fact, in the long run it may be doing more harm than good to Sierra Leone in particular and Africa in general.

Quoting Kagame; ‘I wish the western world would invest in Africa rather than give development aid.  There is a need for aid – but it should be used to allow trade and to build up companies’.