So I'm indebted to 'Fake Aid', a new report from the International Policy Network, for putting me in the picture. In an executive nutshell:-
'In 2008–092 DfID spent £140 million on
“communications” activities by NGOs whose primary
focus is often not the delivery of aid. Spending on such
communications has rocketed in recent years: starting
with an initial budget just under £38 million in 2000–01,
the total cost of these programmes will reach £1.1 billion
It's a lot of money not being spent on what one might expect to be the raison d'être of both the DfID and the charities. The Times had a piece on the report; I missed the agencies' letter in response and can't find it, but some of the comments make the noises characteristic of a vested interest being rubbed up the wrong way. There are some good samples of the oh-so-you-want-us-to-leave-starving-babies-to-die-do-you straw man tactic. Perhaps somewhat spoiling the effect of these is the contribution from someone who can't see what the problem is because he got an all-expenses-paid trip to Ghana and jolly interesting it was too. I'm glad that he had a good time at my expense, but since at present my personal finances won't run to a holiday in Ghana I can only live in hope that the DfID will decide I am a particularly urgent case for re-education.
It's not hard to work out that the IPN is a robustly right-of-centre outfit. But there's a principle at stake which one would hope had at least some lingering resonance with the non-Stalinist Left: the principle that the state is not entitled to take my money and spend it on telling me what to think. But it's hard to find any section of the Left which has not been corrupted by the power conferred by its status as the new Establishment.
A question of some interest to me is whether Christian Aid's Israel-bashing, Hamas-legitimizing political campaigning has been supported by the taxpayer. There's no direct evidence in the report, and it may be hard to disentangle the answer. As the report notes:-
'When DfID funds are bundled together with money for
aid work in the field, it is impossible to know precisely
how the money is spent by recipient organisations or
how much is spent on aid delivery rather than advocacy
and public relations.'
This, though, is anything but reassuring:-
'The NGO War on Want, for example, was issued
an official warning by the Charity Commission over its
overtly political activities which included calls for the
cutting of all cultural, academic and sporting ties with
Israeli people who they deem “complicit at worst and
acquiescent at best” in relation to the Israeli
government’s alleged “apartheid policies.” The warning
did not affect DfID’s continued funding of the
organisation, to which it granted £980,119 via the CSCF
in 2007 and 2008.'
It is, indeed, fairly hard to imagine that you could bung a million quid at War on Want and not be making a substantial contribution to the demonization of Israel. It was certainly never going to get spent on campaigning against the Sudanese regime. It's also hard to believe that the DfID's functionaries don't know this.
I'm very much in favour of schoolkids (and others) learning about development issues. They should learn through proper educational materials devised by reasonably impartial educationalists, not from consciousness-raising sessions run by political commissars. What the DPI report uncovers is that a large and growing chunk of the aid agencies' business is effectively state propaganda by proxy. It's illiberal, it's corrupt, it stinks.