Friday, October 28, 2011

British aid review could shortchange Burundi

A couple of years ago the British government decided to begin a review of international aid expenditures. The review was said to determine what countries had grown to the point where they didn't need as much aid. The review also was set to find what investments produced the greatest results.

There has been great concern throughout the process that some deserving countries would see a decrease in aid. Critics also worried that decisions would be made with only British national interests in mind.

One country in Africa will soon see a closure of services from Brittan's international aid agency. That is the country of Burundi who has the smallest gross domestic product in the world. Parliament is urging the review to reconsider.

From the Guardian, writer Marc Tran reviews the details.

As part of the review announced in March, DfID decided to reduce the number of bilateral aid programmes from 43 to 27. Burundi was dropped, even though DfID said it had "a compelling case for aid". In 2005, the country emerged from a 12-year civil war, fought on ethnic lines, that killed 300,000 people. The conflict left the country devastated, with the lowest recorded GDP per capita in the world, at $150 in 2008. Burundi ranks 166th of 169 countries in the UN's human development index. With 81% of the population living below the poverty line, it is unlikely to meet most millennium development goal targets, not least those on poverty, maternal and under-five mortality, and deforestation. Recent attacks, including the massacre of 36 people at a bar near the capital, Bujumbura, have fuelled fears of a return to civil war.

DfID had doubts about bilateral aid to Burundi in 2009, when a director said the programme was "structurally inefficient, with a small spend, overly-wide scope, and a staff-to-spend ratio which does not reflect economies of scale". DfID said in its bilateral aid review of Burundi that a "large scale-up would have been required to show a significant impact and therefore demonstrate value for money. Achieving this in the short term would have been difficult given capacity constraints in country".

Although its bilateral programme will close next year, DfID said it would continue to support Burundi's integration into the east African community. This will be done through TradeMark East Africa (TMEA), an initiative created by DfID with joint funding from Belgium, Denmark and Sweden. The scheme aims to reduce transport times and costs, eliminate trade barriers, and integrate small markets.

However, a House of Commons International Development Committee report on Burundi took issue with DfID on all three points. Noting that the UK had bilateral programmes with all the countries in the eastern Africa and great lakes region – Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan – MPs said a decision to discontinue bilateral aid to just one of the seven not only sends the wrong signals to that country, but also removes DfID's expertise where it is valued at a critical time.

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