Monday, 9 March 2009

Don't Corrupt NZ Aid

You may have heard of the plans to merge NZAid with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It may have sounded like 'Blah-blah-blah-new-governments-restructuring-to-prove-they-exist-blah-blah-blah'. But I think it is much more important than that.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's job is to advance New Zealand foreign policy agenda. That means acting as a colonial watch-dog (and enforcer) in the Pacific and negotiate on behalf of New Zealand capitalists everywhere. This is not a plan I'm particularly fond of (ah MFAT you may move from office block to office block but still I protest outside you).

Part of the suggested change is to focus less on the elimination of poverty and more on economic development. For those who missed "The ridiculousness of trickle down theory" that means focusing aid less on poor people and more on rich people.

I think a radical analysis of NZAid as it is currently constituted would probably find much to criticise. I don't know enough about NZAid to know for sure. But it doesn't take a particularly radical analysis of MFAT to think that giving it more power to act out it's policy agenda is not good for children and other living things.

For a more mainstream analysis you can check out Don't Corrupt Aid. I think this issue is worth talking about, for those who oppose New Zealand's imperialist role in the Pacific, it's important to understand that this would involve increasing the capacity to act in this role.


Anonymous said...

The thing I hate about these organisations is all the multilateral talking that seems to go on behind the scenes. But I am no expert so perhaps an insider can assure me that decisions really are transparent, democratic and in our best interests.


Nikki said...

Thanks Maia. You rockity rock.

And katy, I don't quite get ya on the multilateral talking? Do you mean the reviews of NZAID by OECD DAC or Murray's reviews which haven't involved anyone but the State Services Commission. Even multilaterals would have been preferable to that!

For the OECD DAC stuff, people were widely consulted and I know for a fact that the Council for International Development was involved. But McCully's current moves have been without consultation with anyone I think? Or at least not anyone from the development world. Hence his statements about helicopters and $100 notes.

It's all a power trip and it sucks tremendously that it is going to be some of the most vulnerable people of the world who suffer for it.

Marianne said...

Thanks Maia, this is more important that the new Government flexing their "reduce bureaucracy" muscles. It is a step back to a model that wasn't working for the people our aid is supposed to benefit, even some key Ministers in the current government know very well that it wasn't working, because they were diplomats at the time.

New Zealanders overwhelmingly (75% off the top of my head) support NZ giving overseas development assistance. The main reason given for supporting NZ's aid programme was humanitarian values. Humanitarian values are not the guiding force of MFAT - which has a clear mandate to pursue what is perceived to be NZ's best self-interest.

Katy - can you tell us a little bit more about your concerns about multilateral talking behind the scenes? I doubt, however, that I'll be able to reassure you that all decisions are transparent, democratic and in our best interests for at least three reasons.

Firstly the answer is going to depend very much on who "we" are - and therefore whose interests we are interested in... Are we talking about the interests of NZ tax payers? Or the interests of people living in poverty in developing countries? I'd argue that often those interests overlap, but they are not the same thing.

Secondly transparency and democracy are terms used to mean different things to different people. NZ rates very highly on Transparency International's global corruption index, for example, but many NZers complain about a lack of transparency in government, not without reason.

Thirdly every development or humanitarian agency I've ever working in is a mixed bag - lots of good but with a generous shaking of not so good. These agencies also operate within the broader political context, and in that context the interests of the powerful have so much more influence than the interests of the majority.

In any case - we can make our views heard on this one. Either with one of Maia's protests outside MFAT or, which may be easier for many of us, through the website.

Anna said...

I'm glad you wrote about this, Maia - it's an issue that's been bothering me, but I don't know enough about it to blog about it.

I've read a little bit about the trend towards microcredit in foreign aid. I find this quite sinister - it seems to be an attempt to turn third world people into western-style individual entrepreneurs, instead of recognising community needs or attempting poverty alleviation in any meaningful way.

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify my earlier, pre-coffee post, what I should have said that I am no opponent of these organisations, I am just not totally confident of the way that decisions are made.

"These agencies also operate within the broader political context, and in that context the interests of the powerful have so much more influence than the interests of the majority."

This is it. It is my understanding that policy decisions in these organisatons are influenced by NZ's commitment to a range of different international treaties etc, and that there is a lack of meaningful ways to influence decisions. Maybe we need to just "trust" government agencies to make good decisions based on the big picture etc but I don't like it!


Frank said...

Hi Maia,

Thank you for lending your voice to the campaign and helping us spread the word. The more people know about it and talk about it, the better.

If you are reading this, please head to and take the action it suggests.

Frank Ritchie
Education and Campaigns Manager (TEAR Fund NZ)

Hendo said...

My 2c - I've worked in AusAID, which is not part of the Australian Department for Foreign Affairs. Both departments were happy with this arrangement at the time.

However I will note that at that time (and still) there was a big focus on governance, economic growth as the way out of poverty, etc. The one-sentence statement of the aid program was to achieve regional stability and security which is in the national (i.e. Australian) interest.

It's like Marianne said - there are good elements and less, shall we say, altruistic elements in any aid agency. I bet NZAID are not that keen to become part of MFAT - but hey, maybe it will increase understanding and collaboration between the two departments.

Anonymous said...

I'm very happy to see that Hand Mirror have blogged about this issue. I really enjoy reading Hand Mirror, and it's great to have a feminist blog from my home on this side of the world.

I just heard about this ridiculous NZAID change proposal yesterday [from a poverty elimination facebook group that I am a member of]. I am impressed that this important issue - which is not feminist per se (but definitely affects women greatly!) is being tackled so well on Hand Mirror.

I sent out a concerned email to Foreign Minister Murray McCully & John Key listing my worries & asking them to get advice from Development Experts & the NZ public before making any changes to NZAID.

NZAID has been strongly praised by Development Experts. It was started after Development Experts criticisms of our previous aid programmes (which were not autonomous). Now it sounds like the politicians want to go back to the previous non-autonomous form of aid programmes. They want to focus on "economic development" rather than "poverty elimination".

As you said, "trickle down" types of economic development are not the best programmes to help the poor. The rich get much richer, while the poor only get marginally better off. "trickle down" economic development programs widen the gap between the rich & the poor. They don't focus on empowering the poor to fully participate in their own economy.

the Hand Mirror writers address some very interesting issues on this blog. Thank you, and keep it up!


Kakariki said...

As much as I applaud a campaign for a decent approach to Aid in the Pacific I have major reservations about the Don't Corrupt Aid campaign. The title itself implies that the aid isn't corrupt in the first place which it sure as hell is. And NZ advisors have had a massive role to play in creating the nightmare that exists in many pacific nations.

The reality is that the majority of kiwi and aussie expat communities in the Pacific are lording it around like they own the place - and they probably freaking do. There are large parts of the Pacific with 80-90% foreign land ownership rates. How the hell are local people supposed to get ahead when they are slaves on their own land?

The majority of aid money is just going into infrastructure projects which make the land even more valuable. Check the USAid Efate Ring Road project (built by NZ road builders...) massively increasing the value of the undeveloped land banks all around the island. And the 25% capital gains are all going overseas with no tax paid. It's as free as lunch could ever be!

I support the intention of the campaign but would love to see a lot more ideas and a lot less rhetoric.