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Parliament: Short attacks aid system

CLARE SHORT, Secretary of State for International Development, will today demand a shake-up of European aid to give new emphasis on helping the poorest nations and on slashing Third World debt.

In a speech critical of the way Europe distributes several billion pounds of assistance, she will say the advent of a new regime in Brussels presents an unparalleled opportunity for reform. Among examples Ms Short will use to highlight shortcomings of the system is a case where 35 signatures were required to amend a contract. She will also say development programmes are often of poor quality, with weak systems for evaluation.

Her broader case, which will be made in a setpiece speech in Brussels, is for a fundamental rethink of Europe's strategy for development, and a re-focusing of assistance to the poorer nations. Taken together with bilateral projects from European member-states, Brussels accounts for more than 60 per cent of global development aid.

However, not all of that is targeted at the poorest countries in the world. In 1996-97, for example, Morocco was the biggest beneficiary of European development aid at $218m, followed by Egypt at $157m. Bangladesh received $101m.

Ms Short's 10-point reform plan suggests a new statement of policy objectives focused on the elimination of poverty, with up to 70 per cent of assistance being directed to low-income countries by 2006. Other initiatives include greater use of professionals from the developing world, devolving more authority, more judgement by results, publication of an annual report and better co-ordination.

Debt relief will also be given a high priority, with Ms Short arguing for an increased European contribution to the programme to relieve the heavily indebted countries.