Development agencies Christian World Service (CWS) and Caritas say it’s time for Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully to come clean on the “Clayton’s review”* of government aid agency NZAID. There needs to be a frank and open dialogue with the development community and taxpayers about how the aid vote is best managed.
NZAID was established in 2002 as a semi-autonomous agency of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) with a prime focus on “poverty elimination”.
Mr McCully has said “reviews of the structure and mandate of NZAID are being undertaken by both the chief executive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the State Services Commissioner” in response to pre-election commitments to “review the operation of agencies that deliver aid to ensure that aid expenditure is effective and efficiently delivered”.
However, Caritas Director Mike Smith and CWS Director Pauline McKay say information released by the State Services Commission confirms what development agencies have feared – that the so-called “review” has a pre-determined outcome, and its process is neither considered nor transparent.
Information obtained under the Official Information Act (OIA) says, “The State Services Commission has not been asked to review NZAID or Aid policy and there is no such Terms of Reference. We have been asked orally by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to develop advice, jointly with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade including NZAID, about a way to ensure greater integration of NZAID within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.”
OIA requests to both MFAT and NZAID were referred to the Minister, who declined to release any information on the grounds that it would interfere with the “free and frank expression of opinions” or “confidentiality of advice” between Ministers and officials. Treasury also declined to release any information on similar grounds.
“This is not a full, open-minded review – the minister seems to have already decided that NZAID needs to be reabsorbed back into MFAT even though its semi-autonomous structure has been endorsed by an independent OECD review,” said Ms McKay.
“The OECD review said that NZAID was the best focused aid and development programme in the world. Therefore we cannot understand why Mr McCully wants to change it,” she said.
A well-considered review of New Zealand’s overseas aid requires full consultation with the development sector, the public, and recipient governments and organisations.
“Mr McCully’s assurances that he will give ‘careful consideration’ to the views of the NGO community ring a bit hollow,” said Mr Smith. “We’re still waiting to hear whether he will meet with Caritas about the issue. Similar requests to National’s associate spokesperson on foreign affairs John Hayes, Minister of Finance Bill English, Maori Party leader Pita Sharples and ACT leader Rodney Hide have also been declined or not responded to.”
“We’re concerned at the lack of substance and outside scrutiny of the process,” said Mr Smith. “We believe that the Minister has been ill advised and would do well to follow the UK government which is currently undertaking a 12-week consultation with their public on its overseas aid policy and commitment to eradicating poverty.”
(*the review you have when you’re not having a review, referring to the (non-alcoholic) Claytons drink marketed as “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink”.)
April 8, 2009