Turning Off the Tap

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The Daily Mail reports that Britain is to stop giving aid to 16 countries, including Cambodia, after a review found they were no longer in poverty, following an inquiry ordered by Britain’s International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell.

Other countries to lose out are Russia, Serbia, China, Vietnam and Moldova. Aid to India will also be frozen rather than stopped.

The aid budget will actually increase by £4billion in the next four years. Vast amounts of extra money – 30 per cent of the budget – will be pumped into unstable hotspots such as Yemen and Somalia, to help them crack down on terrorism. Critics will question whether that is prudent, as there will be no way for Britain to check whether the money is being spent wisely, or being embezzled by officials.

Britain’s move is part of a global trend to reduce bilateral aid – partly because of a belief that countries like Cambodia need to demonstrate greater self-reliance and partly because of economic difficulties donors are experiencing at home. Mitchell established separate reviews into Britain’s bilateral and multilateral aid budgets after the general election.

Britain’s aid budget is one of the few areas protected from cuts, unlike defence, education and the police, which are  having to make deep savings. The total spent on aid will rise from £7billion to £11billion by 2015 – at the same time as front-line public services at home are being slashed.

Aid to Yemen, regarded by Britain as a failing state whose lack of economic development provides a fertile recruiting ground for al-Qaeda, will instead be doubled from £46.7m this year to £90m by 2015.

The UNESCO, a possible victim of the review of Britain’s support for multilateral organisations, will have to meet a series of targets to justify its aid after the review found that it wasted the £12m it receives from Britain each year.

Mitchell told the BBC Politics Show that the reviews would lead to Britain’s aid budget being “much better focused” on areas of greatest need. “People who live in conflict states are very much part of that,” he said.

The reviews are designed to answer opponents on the right and left who have criticised the government’s approach to aid from different angles.

A focus on developing countries in greatest need, with a hard-headed payments by results system, is meant to show sceptical Tories that the aid budget is being spent in a sensible way. Many Tories believe it was wrong of David Cameron to ringfence the aid budget, after the prime minister pledged to maintain Britain’s commitment to meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on aid by 2013.

Targeting resources at a country such as Yemen, some of whose territory is used by al-Qaida as a training ground, is also designed to show that concerns on the left about the securitisation of Britain’s aid budget are unfounded.

Charities have warned that aligning aid priorities with Britain’s overall foreign and trade policy could lead to a return to the 1990s when the Pergau dam in Indonesia was funded with British aid money. Harriet Harman, the shadow international development secretary, voiced these fears when she warned of “subsuming aid activities into military activities”.

Mitchell said resources also will be focused on the 27 poverty-stricken countries that suffer three-quarters of the world’s maternal mortality and malaria deaths, including Ghana and Afghanistan.

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