Aid to corrupt governments sustains abuses


Why does the Government continue to support corrupt regimes by routing Irish taxpayers' aid money through them? asks John O'Shea

Two words sprang immediately from aarticle in The Irish Times by Minister of State for Development Co-operation and Human Rights Conor Lenihan. Writing of the difficulties the Government faces in its efforts to deliver aid via the governments of Uganda and Ethiopia, Lenihan referred to the use of Irish taxpayers' money as being "fully accountable".

Quite who takes account of how that money is spent by some of the most corrupt and dangerous politicians in the world today was never satisfactorily explained.

The Minister alluded to the fact that he had concerns about the situation in Uganda and recent killings perpetrated by the Ethiopian army in Addis Ababa but, intriguingly, added: "We will not cut and run at the first sign of difficulties." I found this comment startling. For the last five years, there has been abundant evidence to support cutting official aid to Uganda while, just last June, the Ethiopian armed forces opened fire on their own people, repeating the practice a month ago.

Surely it is time to take a meaningful stand against corruption in Africa and the most powerful way to do that is by depriving it of the nutrient of Irish taxpayers' money.

Mr Lenihan stated in his piece how "the promotion of human rights is an essential part of Ireland's aid programme".

Outlined below are some facts that challenge the Government's commitment to that statement and contest the theory that bilateral aid is the only way forward.

In Ethiopia:

Recent post-election protests left 80 people dead, killed by Ethiopian government forces. An estimated 10,000 supporters of the opposition have been imprisoned, including 20 leaders.

Freedom of the media has been severely curtailed, with 15 journalists currently being held without charge and five private Amharic weekly newspapers suspended.

In June Britain froze £20 million in aid to Ethiopia in the wake of the first bout of civil unrest.

A Human Rights Watch report last March confirmed that the Ethiopian military has committed widespread murder, rape and torture against the Anuak population in the remote southwestern region of Gambella since December 2003, and that the army is terrorising the rural population with impunity.

In Uganda:

Its biggest aid donor, Britain, has cut £15 million (€22 million) in aid and frozen another £5 million because of the arrest of an opposition leader and other concerns about President Museveni's rule. A statement from the British High Commission in Kampala said the aid cut was due to concerns about "the government's commitment to the independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press and freedom of association" following the arrest.

The International Court of Justice has ruled that Uganda must pay compensation to the tune of $10 billion to the Democratic Republic of Congo for looting during the 1998-2003 war.

Sweden froze $5.1 million in aid recently because of Museveni's behaviour.

Lenihan cut Ireland's support to the Ugandan government by €3 million earlier this year.

Four weeks ago, the Netherlands withheld a quarter of its budget support to the Ugandan government over concerns about governance and macro-economic management.

In November the World Bank reduced budget support to the Ugandan government because of a 13 per cent overspend on public administration, which occurred at the expense of other areas identified as critical for poverty reduction.

The World Bank estimates that Uganda loses about $300 million annually through corruption and procurement malpractices.

Northern Uganda has witnessed a spate of vicious attacks on unarmed humanitarian workers in recent weeks.

A KPMG report in October revealed that almost 70 per cent of respondents from Uganda said that fraud is a major problem in their business, but few report it due to a lack of confidence in the police.

The Ethiopian and Ugandan governments continue to abuse the basic human rights of their own people. If "the promotion of human rights is an essential part of Ireland's aid programme", why then should the Irish Government continue to support corrupt regimes by routing its taxpayers' money through them?

Despite the Minister's pronouncements that taxpayers' money is not misspent, the Audit Committee of the Department of Foreign Affairs last May highlighted the absence of a clear fraud policy for the department, and called for focused internal financial controls.

What level of crimes against humanity do the governments of Uganda and Ethiopia need to perpetrate, before the Government decides to cut off financial aid to these repressive regimes? What message is it sending to the survivors of human rights abuses, and those who have suffered at the hands of both administrations, if Ireland continues to channel aid through those regimes?

It is an incontrovertible fact that aid can only have a positive impact on economic and social development if given to countries with good governance systems. Aid to corrupt governments is ineffective. Worse, it is irresponsible.

It is presumptuous of Lenihan to assert that government-to-government aid is the only way of reaching the poor on the continent.

Has he forgotten the gargantuan contribution that Irish missionaries have made to the alleviation of suffering in Africa? Furthermore, the part played by the NGO community - many of whom are Irish - in ensuring that only the poorest benefit from the generosity of the West, cannot be overstated.

Africa's people are poorer and more marginalised than at any time since independence. That tragic reality is down to the plethora of corrupt dictators who continue to preside over appalling abuses of their hapless people.

I believe that Conor Lenihan, Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern are genuine in their desire to do the best for the people of Ethiopia and Uganda. But their policy of government-to-government aid for those countries is seriously flawed and misguided.

John O'Shea is chief executive of Goal