Last year the British parliament passed a law, which binds the Britain to give away 0.7 per cent of national income in development assistance abroad. Britain is one of the few OECD countries that have met the United Nations ODA target for OECD countries. Today, nearly one in every Ksh.1, 000 spent on aid by OECD comes from Britain.
However, the British citizens are unhappy with this law. A petition by the Mail On Sunday, a leading British newspaper, has received sufficient support to force a fresh debate on the scale of British largesse. Over 200,000 British citizens who have signed the petition believe that it makes no sense to rack up public debt while pumping huge sums of taxpayer money into dubious projects abroad.
The subject of aid has drawn, and continues to generate fierce debate among scholars and development practitioners. The proponents of aid argue that it is necessary and it works. The opponents of aid believe aid is somewhat evil; fuels corruption and props up unaccountable dictators in a majority of recipient countries.
Moreover, those promoting the petition in Britain argue that the aid industry has created a global expat elite class, whose preservation has become more important than needs of the poor. William Easterly, a virulent critic of aid argues that the top-down, planner’s approach of aid is both ineffective and flawed. More often than not the recipients of aid projects have little or no say on the projects. Hence, accountability is diffuse and there is no consequence for lack of results or impact.
The power dynamic around international aid is problematic. The donor country often sets the priorities for development assistance through aid. Yes, there is some degree of consultation, where respective country officials work with donors to align funding priorities with national development plans. I am not sure that the results or impact of decades of billions of aid money provide any evidence that there is meaningful consultation.
There is no doubt that the Africa and the rest of the developing world needs financial assistance from the OECD. Critical investments are needed to reduce maternal and infant deaths. Millions of children die, needlessly, from preventable diseases like malaria, respiratory infections and malaria. Malnutrition is robs Africa of its future when millions of stunted children suffer life-long cognitive impairment. Investing in strengthening public institutions and civil society will bolster good governance in Africa.
What is needed is a transparent, believable and effective model for connecting social development needs in poor countries with OECD resources. The petition by the British taxpayers must not be about cutting back aid contributions. British taxpayers should petition their government to be more thoughtful and deeply consultative in prioritizing how it spends taxpayers’ money. They must demand accountability from recipient communities and governments as well as British field officers who design and implement development projects. Moreover, citizens in the developing world need to petition their own governments to show positive social impacts of projects funded through aid money.