Letter: Means for making overseas aid effective in Rwanda and elsewhere

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The Independent Online
Sir: May I suggest the following idea for Tony Blair, regarding international development aid, to add to the suggestions in your article 'In the market for ideas, Tony?' (25 July). The Government's approach to emergency relief and development aid is subject to constant criticism. Prevarication on Bosnia and Rwanda, and the Pergau dam's trade-aid linkage, are but some examples. I propose a radical solution: contracting out the international aid budget to UK development charities. Bringing market forces to bear should be ideologically acceptable to Mr Blair's Labour Party, should improve value for money and allocate resources according to need, free from political interference.

How would this work? A small policy, budget allocation and contract management group remains at government level. A public debate is held about objectives for the budget, how to achieve these and evaluate performance. Development charities may then bid for the budgets, showing how their projects will contribute to the objectives.

This approach would open the overseas development agenda to greater public scrutiny, reducing the potential for covert political interference. It would transfer work from highly paid Overseas Development Administration personnel to charity workers, who in many areas do the same job at a much lower cost. It would also improve charity programme management and use of funds by forcing a more rigorous appraisal of benefits and costs of projects.

Finally, value for money should be improved further by stimulating competition between charities, on the merits of their projects. And it would give smaller charities a chance to compete and to innovate in a business dominated by the marketing clout of a few big players to raise voluntary donations.

Yours sincerely,

MICHIEL TIMMERMAN

Oxford

26 July

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