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O'Shea is Right on Aid Policy


David Adams • Irish Times, 24 November, 2006

John O'Shea of Goal has long argued that the Government should cease giving aid directly to governments in Africa (or anywhere else, for that matter) that are corrupt or guilty of human rights abuses. Even aside from the moral issues raised by assisting such regimes, O'Shea's arguments are sound.

Where corruption is endemic and aid must pass through countless layers of officialdom, it is certain that a substantial amount will not reach those for whom it is intended. Moreover, if governments continue receiving assistance regardless of brutal or dishonest practices, they have no reason to change and the extra capital serves to strengthen their grip on power.

All of this makes it more difficult to persuade other neighbouring administrations to embark, or continue, on a process of democratisation.

O'Shea's concerns are not merely theoretical but based on 29 years of hard experience in worldwide humanitarian work and the well-documented realities of African governance.

According to African Union (AU) estimates, Africa loses $148 billion (€114. 28 billion) a year, or a quarter of its entire GDP, to corruption. An indicator of how little confidence citizens there have in the probity of their rulers is the $15 billion in savings (40 per cent of the total) that annually flows out of Africa into western bank accounts.

There is also compelling evidence that international funding has been used, directly or indirectly, to finance internal and external conflicts by governments including Ethiopia, Uganda, Nigeria, Angola, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Minister of State responsible for aid, Conor Lenihan, has used a variety of arguments to try to counter O'Shea's complaints.

Initially, he appeared to question his assessment of the levels of corruption and human rights abuse among foreign governments receiving funding from Ireland.

When O'Shea's statistics proved to be correct, he then began claiming that aid encourages recipient regimes to democratise and uphold human rights.

More recently, and somewhat contradictorily, the Minister has suggested that government-to-government funding is the only way of ensuring that the neediest benefit at least to some degree, while also claiming that all aid money can be accounted for.

In a newspaper article last Sunday, he was reported as saying that 85 per cent of Ireland's aid is channelled directly through government structures.

Considering the governments involved and the AU statistics on corruption, it is impossible to believe that all or even the bulk of this can be properly monitored or accounted for.

The Minister himself came close to acknowledging this when, in the same article, he said, "We have to run it [ Irish Aid] through government structures, no matter how weak."

O'Shea's point is that they don't.

Instead of the present scattergun approach to aid distribution, O'Shea advocates "adoption" by the Government of one or two developing countries where aid can be concentrated and its use strictly monitored by Government-appointed project managers.

That way, he argues, substantial resources can be used to provide long-term relief and create infrastructure of real and lasting benefit.

Overseeing distribution and utilisation, project managers would work with as opposed to through local representatives.

Democratisation and respect for human rights would be a basic requirement, not a hopeless aspiration.

In their rush to reach UN targets, western governments too often do not show nearly enough concern for where their money goes.

Consequently, the relief provided is far less than it might be.

Too many donors tend to consider official corruption and widespread human rights abuses as somehow part of the African DNA and accept them on that basis.

That is a fundamentally racist view.

Any government or powerful institution, regardless of its location or ethnic make-up, will be as corrupt and dictatorial as it can get away with.

And that is precisely the problem with many African administrations: they are allowed to behave as they please.

O'Shea argues that Government aid (set to reach € 813.5 million next year) should be used as a lever to help change that.

If more narrowly focused and better managed and monitored, it can be of more fundamental and longer-lasting benefit to a greater number of needy people.

It is unfortunate that Mr Lenihan tends to pepper his responses to O'Shea's points with misleading and insulting asides.

Mr Lenihan should bear in mind that it is drought, starvation, poverty, conflict, official corruption and brutality that are the enemy, not John O'Shea.

He is only suggesting better ways of tackling the enemy.


Reprinted with permission from the author.











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