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What the papers say: It’s time to bin the foreign aid target

12 February 2018

8:29 AM

12 February 2018

8:29 AM

The Oxfam sex abuse scandal rumbles on, with the Times reporting that the charity knew about the questionable conduct of two men before they were posted to work in Haiti. The paper says it is time for a serious shake-up in the way in which international aid is meted out to avoid a repeat of this story. It is clear that there ‘is now a serious disconnect between the priorities set by the foreign secretary and the policies which flow from the wealthier international development department’s ability to effect change’, says the paper. This is because of DFID’s ‘much bigger budget’ – a result of the government’s ring-fenced commitment to spend 0.7 per cent on foreign aid. Boris Johnson has attempted to ‘rebuild the links’ between the two departments to ensure a closer working relationship. But there is some work to go, and it is vital that diplomats are given more of a say in the ‘money handed out by DFID’. Britain’s ‘aid policies worked best about 25 years’ ago when the foreign secretary was given oversight of aid spending, argues the paper. It is essential that Britain resumes this practice, says the Times, which says that ‘diplomacy and development must work together’. After all, concludes the paper, if the ‘Foreign Office, alive to the global image of its policies’ had been more heavily involved in Oxfam’s work in Haiti, it ‘might have been quicker to see the damage done by abuses disgraceful perpetrated in Oxfam and other aid agencies’. ‘Co-ordinating policies and departments in equal partnership is how Ms Mordaunt should work with Mr Johnson,’ concludes the Times.

The Sun says the government should ‘strip’ the charity of its cash, calling the ‘cover-up of sexual exploitation’ a ‘disgrace. ‘It is bad enough’, says the paper, ‘that taxpayers’ money has been funding charities that would rather turn a blind eye to abuse than risk their reputations by exposing it’. But the paper says that, if it turns out to be correct, as former international aid secretary, Priti Patel, alleges, that ‘officials within the UK Government knew about it and did nothing to stop it, then heads should roll’. Patel points out a ‘culture of denial’ among ‘aid bigwigs’. Given that ‘virtue-signalling’ is ‘now the driving force behind our aid policy’ it is no surprise that ‘anybody daring to question where the money goes’ gets a hard time, says the Sun. The truth is that the aid system is ‘fundamentally broken’, the paper argues: ‘For years we’ve told how taxpayers’ cash is ploughed into vanity projects that do little to help the world’s poorest’, argues the Sun. So what should be done to prevent a repeat of this scandal? Oxfam’s funding should be revoked until the charity can ‘get their house in order’, says the paper. But ministers should not stop there: ‘it’s time to bin the spending target’ too.

‘Should Britain really be spending almost £14 billion a year on overseas development when “austerity” has for so long been the grinding watchword at home?’, asks the Telegraph. It is a question which has been asked for some years, says the paper. Yet ‘such budgetary questions pale into insignificance’ when measured against the Oxfam sex scandal. ‘Suspicion will grow that Whitehall mandarins were aware, more or less, of what was going on’, says the Telegraph. It seems that the ’cosy complicity’ within the world of international aid meant that ‘misbehaviour inevitably follows’ from this apparent lack of accountability, says the Telegraph. ‘The relationship between DFID and the charities to which it routinely hands over huge sums needs to be one that ensures the utmost accountability’, says the paper. Now it is time to ascertain the ’history of that relationship’ to determine whether those in Whitehall were ‘kicking over the traces of criminality’ when they should have been ‘demanding transparency’. If it is proven that a blind eye was turned to what was happening, ‘there should be hell to pay’, concludes the Telegraph.

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