Take a stand on D&P

  • March 27, 2012

In a perfect world, agencies dedicated to lifting people out of poverty would be well financed with both private and public funds. But the world of 2012 is far from perfect so it should be no shock that Development and Peace is reeling from a 68 per cent cut in government funding.

Governments everywhere are scrambling to reduce huge budget deficits and ballooning debts exacerbated by global economic turmoil. In Canada, amid expensive national infrastructure and bailout programs, the Conservative government changed its approach to foreign aid in 2010. Where foreign aid used to be based on a percentage of GDP, it is now capped at $5 billion annually.

That may sound like a lot of money but what it means, in real terms, is that Canada is becoming less generous. As Canada’s wealth grows, the amount of overseas aid delivered by Ottawa will be stagnant.

In addition, the government, through CIDA, is determined to make international aid more efficient and accountable. That sounds good. But the kicker is a strategy to align overseas aid with Canadian foreign policy. In other words, mixing charity with politics. That approach means decisions regarding which poor people Canada helps may be determined by the political leaning of either a foreign government or the agency delivering the aid.

So, overall, the news has been disconcerting for many international agencies that provide aid and development assistance to the world’s poor. The government won’t say exactly why agencies like D&P and, before them, KAIROS were targeted for a funding haircut. But the suspicion is widespread that these agencies are being judged as much by the friends they keep as by the merit of their programs.

D&P requested $49.2 million in government funding over five years — compared to $44.6 million on the previous term — but received just $14.5 million. Even if it sees an increase in private donations (which were $12.6 million last year) D&P is facing program cuts and staff layoffs.

In light of that, lay Catholics should be assessing how they feel about D&P. The agency has been widely (and justly) criticized in recent years for aligning with a few organizations that operate afoul of Church teachings on life issues. Unfortunately, those disputes tend to overshadow D&Ps considerable good work on behalf of the Canadian Church.

If  D&P is to improve its popularity (i.e. donations) among lay Catholics, it needs to become less political and more Catholic. It also needs to be more accountable and transparent regarding operating procedures and partners.

For years Catholics have counted on generous government grants to bolster D&P’s efforts. But that well is running dry. If Catholics still believe in D&P, they’ll have to prove it — with their wallets.

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