Development agencies wonder how effective Canadian aid is

  • June 19, 2009
{mosimage}Plans to narrow Canada's foreign aid spending so larger amounts can go to fewer projects has left the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace wondering where Canada is going on overseas development aid.

In a second speech this year addressing "aid effectiveness," Minister of International Co-operation Bev Oda announced May 20 that Canada would henceforth concentrate its aid dollars on three "themes." The Canadian International Development Agency will limit its non-emergency spending to increasing food security, promoting sustainable economic growth and programs for youth and children.

The new areas of concentration for Canada's aid dollars follows a February announcement that Canada would focus 80 per cent of its bilateral aid on a list of 20 countries.

"Frankly we're a bit confused as to where this is all going," said Development and Peace executive director Michael Casey. "There doesn't seem to be a great deal of coherence and consistency with CIDA's previous directions."

Oda argues CIDAs previous directions were directionless.

"We need to focus our aid thematically, just as we did geographically," said Oda.

But there's no guarantee just picking themes will make aid dollars work harder, aid policy expert Anne-Laura Constantin of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy told The Catholic Register.

"I don't think aid effectiveness depends on sectors. Making aid effective depends on how you define your aid policy and who you involve in the process," she said.

While government-to-government talk about priorities is important, somebody has to also talk to farmers, farm associations, co-operatives and non-governmental organizations — the people who need the aid and operate the programs, said Constantin.

Oda's office says that's what the minister has in mind.

"We will work with partner countries to focus our work to meet the needs of people at a community level," said an Oda spokesperson in an e-mail.

Concentrating aid in fewer areas could help Canada's foreign aid do what it's supposed to do, said University of Toronto economist Dwayne Benjamin.

"Scattering money all over the place can impress a wide swath of voting constituencies. But it may be completely wasted," said Benjamin in an e-mail.

Oda does concede she has no intention of meeting Canada's commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on development assistance. Though she blames "Irish rock stars" for the spending target, it was actually Canada that proposed the 0.7 per cent level at the United Nations.

"We believe aid delivery that is effective, efficient and accountable is about more than dollar figures," said Oda's spokesperson.

An effective policy would also be a consistent policy, said Casey.

"A year ago they had said — consistent with the previous Liberal government's policy — that more and more of the aid and focus would be on Africa. Whoop! All of a sudden it was gone," Casey said. "Does this mean that if we go to work in these thematic areas that there's going to be funding for Africa in this?"

"We will assess projects that do not fall within the parameters of the 20 countries on a case-by-case basis; keeping in mind that programming will be guided by our thematic priorities," said Oda's spokesperson.

Last year Development and Peace spent $7.9 million in CIDA funds on international programs. It collected just over $10 million from Canada's ShareLife and Share Lent campaigns. Out of a total budget of $27.6 million, Development and Peace spends 71 per cent on overseas programs.

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