Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Dutch government cuts development aid

By John Tyler


The Dutch government has agreed to scale back the number of countries receiving direct bi-lateral development aid. In the future, more than half of the countries currently receiving such aid will have to do without if the cabinet’s plans are approved by parliament.

The new list, which cuts from 33 to 15 the number of countries receiving direct government-to-government aid, is part of a broad rethinking of development cooperation, says Dutch Deputy Development Cooperation Minister Ben Knapen. He wants aid to be more focused on economic growth, and on helping countries become self-sufficient. He also wants to provide aid in sectors where Dutch expertise can do the most good. This includes sexual and reproductive health, food security, water and good governance.

In attempting to make development aid more efficient, Mr Knapen has worked closely with six other European countries to coordinate policy – Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and Spain. He did not work through the usual European Union channels under Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, saying that the bureaucracy involved was too cumbersome. Mr Knapen says he feels encouraged by the cooperation among the seven countries now coordinating development aid policy, and said the collaboration would continue. It allows the Dutch government to cut back, without leaving partner countries in the lurch, he says.

“What we want to avoid is that you get donor darlings and donor orphans. There’s always an element of fashion and trends in the countries where people want to send aid, and people want to withdraw aid. And for the countries themselves that’s rather unfair. We try to discuss with partner countries so that we don’t all walk away together from the same countries, and we don’t all stay in the same countries.”

Profit motive
Opposition Labour Party MP Sjoera Dikkers is not surprised at the definitive list that Knapen presented on Friday. “Previous ministers started with the selection process, but I’m not happy with some of the choices that Knapen has made,” she says.

Of the eighteen countries scrapped from the list, Ms Dikkers is especially worried about Burkina Faso and Guatemala. “These countries are no donor darlings. They have serious problems, and you don’t have to be an expert on a certain topic to do a lot of good there.” The new approach to development aid, emphasising economic relations, is evident in Mr Knapen’s decisions, she says. “Knapen doesn’t want to be in Burkina Faso anymore, because Dutch companies can’t make money there.”

Deputy Minister Ben Knapen strongly denies that profit is a motive in Dutch development policy. He says ending the partner relationship with Burkina Faso was a direct result of consultation with the six other European countries – two other countries were set to increase their aid to Burkina Faso, so the Netherlands decided to pull out.

With the new policy, the Netherlands loses its place as the most generous donor country per capita, and risks losing influence in the partner countries being phased out. How concerned is Mr Knapen about the Netherlands losing influence by cutting back on the number of partner-countries?

“I think that as long as you can influence international organisations in a way that fits your interest and our interest is multinational organisations and international law, as long as we can do that there’s no problem making choices on development aid.”

Countries still on the list for Dutch development aid
Benin, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Sudan, The Palestinian Territories, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Yemen and Afghanistan

Countries dropped from the list
Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Egypt, South Africa, Zambia, Senegal, Pakistan, Nicaragua, Mongolia, Georgia, Guatemala, Kosovo and Moldova

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