Letter: Good and bad uses of overseas development aid

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The Independent Online
Sir: Sir Tim Lankester's evidence to the Commons Public Accounts Committee ('Major approved pounds 234m aid for 'wasteful' dam project', 18 January) exposes a disturbing situation with regard to the disbursement of funds voted by Parliament for overseas aid. In the mid-Seventies the late Judith Hart introduced a 'new strategy' whereby overseas aid was to be primarily directed towards 'the poorest people in the poorest countries'. I am not aware that this policy has been formally rescinded, but there has certainly in the last decade been a change of emphasis whereby the primary criterion appears to be Britain's perceived commercial advantage.

Through devices ranging from the overt 'aid and trade' provision to, as is now exposed, prime ministerial intervention much of Britain's aid has been diverted to countries (Malaysia is a case in point) which can by no means be described as among the poorest while, as I myself experienced, British representatives in the poorest countries albeit with close traditional links with Britain (in my case Sierra Leone) were told that our countries had 'little priority'.

The Overseas Development Agency generally seeks to excuse Britain's poor performance in regard to the UN-recommended target of proportion of GNP by claiming that British aid is of 'high quality'.

We do have a good record in regard to emergency assistance, but Sir Tim's exposure belies this in regard to development aid. It is to be hoped that Parliament will now insist that aid funds are used for the purpose for which they are voted and that money for trade promotion is correctly designated.

Yours faithfully,


London, SE16

18 January

The writer was British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, 1986-91.