The New York Times reports today that the Metropolitan Police have had to warn Rwandan dissidents living in London that their government may be plotting to kill them:
“Reliable intelligence states that the Rwandan government poses an imminent threat to your life,” the warning letters read. They added, “Although the Metropolitan Police Service will take what steps it can to minimize the risk, the police cannot protect you from this threat on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour basis.”
Needless to say, this is extremely serious. What is really shocking though is that in a very real sense, our money is supporting the Government suspected of plotting murder in London.
DFID statistics (Statistics in International Development, Table 14.1: Total DFID Expenditure and GPEX by Recipient Country (Africa) 2005/06 – 2009/10) show that we gave budget support of £38.7 million in 2009-10. Budget support is the money that goes directly to the Government and, while we might specify things we want them to spend it on, is in practice available for them to spend however they please. Another £14.1 million of aid is given through other organisations like NGOs and then we tend to make further contributions through multilateral channels like the EU. The £38.7 million is just the money their government gets.
Growing repression from the Rwandan authorities has been chronicled over some time by commentators like Ian Birrell. In September 2009, he wrote about the problem, making this very powerful point:
“Britain is Rwanda’s biggest donor, pumping in £52m this year in direct contributions, a form of aid-giving reserved for those that have proved good governance. But human rights groups are increasingly concerned by restrictions on freedom of speech in Rwanda; even the BBC has not escaped a ban on its local language service. And other major donors, including the Netherlands and Sweden, suspended direct aid after a UN report highlighted Rwanda’s role in eastern Congo, where war has claimed the lives of six times as many people as the Rwandan genocide.”
It’s worth reading the whole article. In it he talks about how Paul Rusesabagina, a hero during the genocide, now believes: “The British taxpayer is financing a proxy war. We need justice, not aid.”
The problem isn’t just money given to governments we have every reason to expect might abuse it. Pakistan is another example of that and currently led by a man known as “Mr. 10 Percent”, as he has been so good at getting kickbacks in government deals.
The biggest recipient of British aid is India, to the tune of £334 million in 2009 (Statistics in International Development, Table 10: Top Twenty Recipients UK Net Bilateral ODA 2007-2009). It’s an impressive amount of money but pretty trivial for a developing economic powerhouse. Total Expenditure in India’s Union Budget for 2011-12 is 12.6 trillion rupees according to the Times of India. That’s about £172 billion and means all of our development assistance to India is worth about 0.2 per cent of their government’s budget. In other words, if they wanted to fund any of the items we spend money on, they could. It would cost about a third of the budget they currently allocate to their space programme.
Huge amounts of money are spent through charities like Oxfam which waste big chunks of it. Last time we looked at the figures systematically, we reported that in 2007-08 they received nearly £16 million and over a third of their budget went on non-project expenditure. That includes things like adverts on the London Underground lecturing us about climate change. I debated international spending with a representative of the charity recently, which you can listen to below:
None of these problems, and I’ve only given the briefest summary here, are going to be helped by tidal waves of new money. With lots of cash they need to get out of the door, it will be that bit harder for the government to insist that only reputable, robust and efficient programmes receive funding. Freezing the budget – not even cutting it – would mean development received the same kind of deal science spending has and would save taxpayers here £3.7 billion a year by 2014-15. That seems a pretty moderate policy given the problems in the aid budget.