'Addicted to Aid' - A Response

Posted by Colin Corbridge on Fri, 28 Nov 2008 | Bookmark: digg this Post this to del.icio.us Post this to Facebook

In response to the BBC’s recent Panorama programme focusing on the effectiveness of international aid, Ian Smith, CMS Ireland’s Director of Mission commented, “We are delighted that the BBC has brought the complex issue of accountability in international development to the public’s attention.”

An introduction to the programme on the BBC website says, “Over the last 50 years Western governments have paid out more than £400bn of tax payers’ money in aid to Africa, but according to figures released by the World Bank this year, half of sub-Saharan Africans still live in extreme poverty, a figure which has not changed since 1981. So why isn’t there more success to show for the billions of pounds which have been spent? And why is it that all too often the aid doesn’t get through to the very people it is supposed to be helping? In ‘Addicted to Aid’, award-winning Sierra Leonean reporter Sorious Samura, a man well-known for asking difficult questions of Africa’s leaders, examines these issues…”

“NGOs working in the two-thirds world are often keen to stress that ‘aid works’”, says Ian. “However in CMS Ireland we would be a little more cautious in making this kind of ‘blanket assertion’. For us, it’s probably more accurate to say that ‘ good aid can work’”, he claims.

“I’m sure that some people will be up in arms about the programme, claiming that it only showed a one-sided picture of the ‘aid story’ – and that’s true to an extent. But it highlighted issues that need to be talked about in the public arena.”

“When we talk about development work we can highlight examples of ‘good practice’ – and we want to celebrate those. But across Africa, Asia and Europe there are too many situations, which clearly show that simply throwing money at situations has little or no positive impact. Effective planning, implementation and monitoring are critical if development efforts are going to make a difference.”

True partnership may take more time but we believe it’s more effective and will last longer…

“That’s one of the reasons CMS Ireland works through local partnerships,” continues Ian. “By engaging directly with grassroots communities we are able to ensure that any money given by our supporters, members and donors goes exactly where it’s needed. But more than that, we know that the initiatives we support have originated with local people – they are not the result of us as ‘donors’ imposing our agenda, they have emerged from long-standing partnerships. By working through local churches we are well positioned to avoid many of the pitfalls that can happen when organisations work in global contexts. CMS Ireland guarantees that all the money that is given for such purposes is spent on just that – and nothing else. It is the result of working through long term partnerships at the point of delivery – the local church.”

“What the ‘Addicted to Aid’ programme showed, very clearly, was that it’s pointless building schools or clinics if they can’t be properly resourced or if teachers and doctors aren’t paid properly. The end result is simply a series of empty buildings that make donors feel as if they have achieved something but are of no benefit to the local community. There are countless examples of this all over Africa. Of course education and healthcare are vitally important issues but we, in ‘the West’ need to engage with the issues properly if we’re going to engage at all – it can’t be about salving our conscience, feeding our egos or making us feel good.”

“True partnership may take more time but we believe it’s more effective and will last longer.”

“In CMS Ireland we believe passionately in transparency and accountability – we want to make sure that as much of the money that comes from our supporters goes directly to where it’s most needed”, says Ian.

“As part of this drive, in the past week we have announced a policy change in how we handle donations that are given to us for designated purposes around the world. Last year, for the first time in our history, we began to deduct a facilitation charge on these designated gifts. We did this in good faith as we have charitable obligations to monitor the gifts. However, having listened to our members, we realise that there were some concerns about this and to help people feel confident in giving to CMS Ireland we have decided not to continue with this from 1st November 2008. This means that anyone giving money to CMS Ireland can be assured that 100% of their donation will go to its designated purpose. We don’t think that there are many organizations who can make this claim.”

“All of the costs incurred in monitoring donations will, in future, be met from our General Funds. As a result it’s our hope and prayer that people will be also be generous in their giving to CMS Ireland’s General Fund.”

“By resourcing CMS Ireland in this way people in Ireland can demonstrate their desire to do more than tick a ‘quick-fix’ box – they can ensure that, within the context of relationship, they are enabling a long-term response to endemic problems in some of the world’s poorest communities.”

Information on the ‘Addicted to Aid’ programme can be found here and here. The programme itself can be found on the BBC’s iPlayer until 1st December.