So desperate is the UK to reach its 0.7 per cent of GNI target for foreign aid, it has been literally throwing money away on consultants to provide ‘services’ to relatively wealthy countries. In an excellent series of articles in the UK’s Telegraph, we can see the extent of these excesses and follies. It seems that when poverty is not available as a justification for giving aid, the standard fallback is climate change which can be used to justify just about any form of expenditure in any country.
Here are some good quotes from the series of articles:
- the UK’s independent commission on aid impact is staffed largely by aid consultants, hence the consultancy probe has been delayed to “work out a way of dealing with the conflict of interest”
- a scheme promoting tourism in Iceland’s national park, and a hotel training waiters in the tourist destination of Barbados
- the scheme has made millionaires of so-called ‘poverty barons’ (at least the Robber barons left some good infrastructure)
- the EU spends about half its aid budget of £10 billion on middle and higher income countries – even though Britain believes those countries are too wealthy to merit support;
- Russia, with more than 100 billionaires, was given £40 million, including £240,000 for an arts project in St Petersburg. The results of the project entitled: “Listening to Architecture, Composing Spaces” will be presented at the St Petersburg Architectural Biennale in 2013 and at a conference at the Hermitage Museum in 2014.
- Iceland receives about £4.2 million including £400,000 for a scheme to promote tourism in Katla national park; while Georgia is earmarked £80 million including £400,000 for a mayoral project in Tbilisi, which gives the capital responsibility for organising “Sustainable Energy days”. Iceland, a country officially wealthier than the UK and which refuses to re-pay £2.3 billion owed to Britain in the credit crunch, receives funding for at least three projects including promoting tourism in a national park, and Croatia received £120 million in 2011 while the west African state of Mali, whose population is four times the size but 20 times poorer, was given £13.5 million from the EU.
In something that must have Adam Smith rolling in his grave, we discover
The managing director of the London-based development consultancy Adam Smith International (ASI), which gets most of its income from DFID, paid himself a salary and dividends totalling almost £1.3 million in 2010.
Then we have the Bahamas
In that well-known pit of misery, the Bahamas, a DFID-funded project has assessed climate change impact. In Barbados, British consultants work on a DFID-funded aid project, the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Centre, where the average consultant salary and living allowance is £180,000.
At the event, I spoke to Mr Howell about aid in the Caribbean. “We [Britain] give 9% of the Caribbean Development Bank budget, but we get 14% of the spend,” he said. “It’s a good return on investment.”
But, I said, the Caribbean wasn’t poor. “There are always elements of poverty in any country,” he said. “When I was in [Washington] DC, there was poverty a few blocks from the White House.” So far, DFID has restrained itself from starting an aid programme to the USA.
As the networking part of the session began, the consultants started swapping business cards and lifestyle stories: the pools, the $2000-a-day “expert” who demanded (successfully) that a new Mercedes be shipped to East Timor for him. But others were more grounded.
“I cringed when Graham Hand said that about the money, particularly this week,” said one consultant. “I hope nobody from the Telegraph was here tonight.”
So, dear readers, climate change and foreign aid are a neat form of rent seeking – surely the type conspiracy of which Adam Smith warned?