Hard News by Russell Brown


Not Helping

I had intended this morning to link to my 1999 examination of Murray McCully's extraordinary conduct as the Minister of Tourism, but Scoop's Gordon Campbell, has, well, scooped me.

Gordon's concern, elegantly explained in his new column, is the same as mine. Our new Foreign Affairs minister, Mr McCully, is ditching the philosophy of New Zealand's foreign aid programme. And he is doing so unilaterally, "with virtually no consultation, parliamentary scrutiny or public discussion."

It is impossible not to think back to the last time he held ministerial responsibility.

As Gordon notes, the present semi-autonomous status of NZAID is not the result of some philosophical whim, but of a significant independent review. Now, its separation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is being erased in such a way that not even the staff in McCully's own office seem to understand what is going on.

The minister has taken advice from the State Services Commission -- not on the merit of the change, but only on how to expedite it.

Gordon writes:

In particular, McCully has trashed NZAID’s emphasis on alleviating and eliminating poverty. That framework is something he has chosen to ridicule as a handout, not a hand-up. “You could ride around in a helicopter pushing hundred-dollar notes out the door and call that poverty elimination,” McCully said recently. As even the NZ Herald has noted, these comments must be particularly galling to the organisations that actually deliver this country’s aid, and who have been praised – by the OECD among others - for the value of much of their development work

The Herald's editorial concludes by declaring that the re-integration "should be rejected, as should any linking of aid to this country's political ambitions. Aid works best when it is a regarded as a humanitarian gesture. Government tampering serves only to debase it."

Unfortunately, it appears the debasement is proceeding apace. A subsidy for Air New Zealand's flights to the US mainland from Tonga and Samoa will, it appears, come from a raid on the foreign aid budget.

It isn't that these flights aren't very helpful to the economies of those countries, but it is a key principle of transparent foreign aid that as much as possible is spent in the target country. Using our meagre aid budget to subsidise our own companies -- and I doubt this will be the last example -- is simply incompatible with that principle. It is the very behaviour from which the US -- long the most grievous offender -- is now consciously retreating.

And it's all being done here without significant scrutiny or debate, by a minister who still seems to regard ministerial office as something like a fiefdom.

There's more via Don't Corrupt Aid, a website created by 18 aid agencies, including World Vision, TEAR Fund Christian Action, Save the Children and Oxfam. They even have a Facebook group.

In general, this plays into a growing sense of executive fecklessness in the new government. National unquestionably won the right to enact its policies. It didn't win the right for ministers to behave as if they were the law. Judith Collin's foolish chest-beating over the fate of her Corrections CEO, Tony Ryall's political headhunting, and the bizarre passage last year of major education reforms under urgency all smack of political marketing on behalf of the ministers involved. They would do well to remember they are servants of the system, and of us all.

I've been meaning to point to the EPMU's short documentary on the credit crunch. It features Gareth Morgan, Peter Conway, Brian Easton and others, and I think it's welcome both as a backgrounder for workers, and as a good-faith entry by the union into the economic debate. So, here it is.

Part One:

And Part Two:

Also, Rod Oram is the guest speaker at the Auckland Drinking Liberally tonight, at the London Bar, corner of Wellesley and Queen Streets, from 7pm to 10pm. I plan to pop down the road after we record Media7.

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