Last week it seemed like everyone was so busy talking about Liam Fox’s leaked letter to David Cameron on international aid, that they barely had time to actually read the thing.
For me, the most shocking part of the letter wasn’t Fox’s opposition to the government’s proposal to legislate on the 0.7% promise (about as surprising as Owen Barder’s support for economists) – it was Fox’s complaint about transparency in aid spending.
Let’s look at what he actually said:
“…as a result of the wider drive to improve the transparency and accountability of international development work, the Government’s own monitoring and reporting requirements for ODA (aid) are likely to become more stringent. This may present risks to my department’s ability to both report certain priority activities as ODA and, therefore, to receive funding for them from the Conflict Pool.”
So, basically, if it’s possible to see exactly what Dr Fox’s defence department are trying to report as aid, there would probably be a judgement that these activities are outside the OECD rules. I can’t see a way to interpret this other than to say that Dr Fox is complaining because he will no longer be able to sneak money out of the aid pot for his defence activities without anyone noticing.
How much money has he been sneaking out already? If Fox wasn’t breaking the rules, he’d having nothing to fear from transparency. Is this an admission that Dr Fox’s defence department have already been misusing aid?
There are incredibly clear lines on what can be counted as aid and what cannot. If any of these lines have been deliberately crossed, we would have to say that this is a case of corruption. We couldn’t ask for a clearer piece of evidence that transparency really is critical to ensuring that aid is spent legitimately, wisely and where it is needed most.