Dutch aid to Africa under fire
Earlier this year, the Development Cooperation Inspectorate reported that Dutch funds did not always benefit the poorest of the poor.
On Wednesday, Conservative VVD MP Arend Jan Boekestijn clashed with Development Minsiter Bert Koenders when he called for a parliamentary inquiry into the efficacy of Dutch aid to Africa. Critical inspectorate reports have been ignored in the past, but will an inquiry do anything to improve development policy?
The Development Cooperation Inspectorate, which works under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry, spent two years compiling a damning 600-page report on the Dutch government's Africa policies between 1998 and 2006. Its findings are welcome ammunition to the opposition who, in a highly-unusual move, are threatening to vote down the Finance Ministry's 2009 budget.
Minister Koenders and his Foreign Affairs colleague Maxime Verhagen admit policy could always be improved. But they hasten to add that since they came into office things are a lot better. Although Mr Koenders says he takes the conclusions made in the report seriously, the two ministers think some of them are slightly blunt and not particularly balanced.
The opposition thinks differently and Mr Boekestijn has some tough questions to ask:
"Why are we giving money to corrupt regimes? Sometimes we do stop, but then it is very late. Take Eritrea for example. Why are we giving a dubious regime like Nigeria debt relief? In other words: Why don't we monitor aid and why do we continue to pay money to corrupt regimes?"
His calls for an inquiry are not backed by other parliamentary factions. They support the priorities laid out by Mr Koenders: sustainable growth in poor countries, attention for budget support, anti-corruption policies.
The policy evaluation covers the period before the current Development Minister took office. In these years, the Netherlands gave various African countries 5.8 billion euros. The report criticises how some of this money was spent. For example it is difficult to see what the effect has been of budget support and debt relief. And spending in sectors such as health care and education does not always reach the poorest people. The inspectorate says not enough attention has been paid to the agricultural sector.
This is not the first report by the Development Cooperation Inspectorate. It has been evaluating the Dutch government's development policy for 30 years. Jos van Beurden, co-author of a book on 25 years of reports by the inspectorate, notes that little has actually even been done with the results of evaluations:
"The critical reactions to the Africa evaluation suit the general call to reduce aid to developing countries. That is an age-old trend. If you take a look at the history of the Inspectorate, you will see that both the minister and parliament hardly take the evaluations seriously at all, they hardly look at them. But I'm not happy with what is happening in the Lower House because it is just a party political battle."
Mr van Beurden hopes, as do the people who compiled the report and other experts, that this time a broad and constructive debate will take place on the development relationship between the Netherlands and Africa, on how development funds can be better allocated and on how to monitor this spending.
It is doubtful whether the inquiry Mr Boekestijn is calling for will provide any solutions. The outcome for the VVD is already clear. It wants to halve the development budget.
24 October 2008
By Laurens Nijzink