John Davison: Short pioneered proper path for government aid

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The Independent Online

As Baroness Amos prepares to get to grips with her new job at the helm of the Department for International Development, she can at least thank her predecessor for one thing: that she is now a member of the Cabinet.

As Baroness Amos prepares to get to grips with her new job at the helm of the Department for International Development, she can at least thank her predecessor for one thing: that she is now a member of the Cabinet.

From the view of a development agency such as Christian Aid, it is to Clare Short's credit – and the credit of the Blair Government as a whole – that the post of Development Secretary was elevated to this level, having been seen until then as a job for those not expected to reach the highest ministerial office.

With this enhanced status has come a higher public profile for development issues and, in co-operation with Gordon Brown at the Treasury, a substantial increase in the level of government funding for the newly formed department. Again, these are both things that have been welcomed by development organisations. In so far as Clare Short was the embodiment of this more enlightened government view, she will be missed.

She will also be remembered for taking a lead on the international scene on development issues, by spearheading the British Government's positive response to the campaign to cancel Third World debt, of which Christian Aid was one of the founders. It is true that Christian Aid has had its share of differences with her over the past six years. On occasion, relations have become frosty. Since the launch of the Trade Justice campaign 18 months ago, for example, we and other agencies have fought a running battle with her and her officials over their approach to opening markets as the panacea for alleviating poverty through trade. Christian Aid believes poor countries need "unfair trade", in their favour, to nurture emerging industries.

We shared the confusion of many observers at her apparent backtracking on resignation over the Iraq war. We hoped that her remaining in office would ensure the promised "vital role" for the United Nations would be a meaningful one. As this now seems increasingly remote, we respect her reasons for going and share her concern over how the reconstruction of Iraq is going to be realised and paid for.

Our report, Fuelling Poverty – Oil, War and Corruption, issued yesterday to mark the start of Christian Aid Week, exposes how oil has, more often than not, been a curse rather than a blessing for developing countries. These are issues we will be pursuing with vigour as soon as Lady Amos has her feet under her departmental desk.

John Davison is an emergency officer for Christian Aid and an author of its report, 'Fuelling Poverty'

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