Pledge to break the aid link to arms

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The Independent Online
Clare Short, Britain's new Cabinet Minister for International Development, has ordered a full-scale review of aid spending to ensure that a scandal like the Pergau Dam affair, where cash aid to Malaysia was linked to arms sales, could never happen again.

Ms Short is determined to ensure that her department's budget should be directed at alleviating poverty and providing basic health care and education.

Officials at the new Department of International Development are already working on a White Paper, to be published later this year, showing how the pounds 2bn aid budget can be better spent.

Ms Short said this weekend that she believed that abject poverty could be eliminated from the world within 25 years if rich nations worked together towards that end.

"Aid needs to go into programmes of human development for the poorest people in the world. The most developmental thing you can do is to educate girls," she said.

Existing projects would continue, she said, but as they came up for renewal they would be reviewed to ensure they met the aims of the new department. Her first major project, announced last week, involved pounds 7.5m for education in South Africa.

The White Paper would set out the principles of the department and break with the old orthodoxy that progress was inevitable if rich countries continued to give small sums of aid to poor countries, she said.

Ms Short said that with an already crowded legislative programme set out last week by the Labour government, she believed she could meet her aims without legislation. She argued that existing rules could be used to prevent arms from being sold in return for overseas aid.

She said that she supported the provisions in a private members Bill, introduced earlier this year by Hugh Bayley, Labour MP for York, but that they could be implemented without legislation. Mr Bayley argued that the use of the aid budget for any project which breached social, environmental or human rights standards or which were linked to the sale of military equipment should be banned.