Andrew Mitchell the former Minister for International Development was among those who responded to my and Justin Shaw’s articles on DfID and the Aid Industry on the Spectator letters page in the 12th Jan issue. The key paragraph was this one:
The sceptics question the results. How about the 11 million children in school who wouldn’t be there but for Britain’s generosity? The clean water secured for as many people as live in the UK thanks to our taxpayers? A child was vaccinated every two seconds throughout this Parliament and a child’s life saved every two minutes from diseases that none of our children die from. Surely we should build on this and improve it, not sneer and belittle it?
I replied in the current issue:
Sir: In Andrew Mitchell’s response to my article ‘The Great Aid Mystery’ (5 January), he asks ‘what about the 11 million children in school who wouldn’t be there’ if it weren’t for DFID’s aid efforts. It would be hard to come up with a more representative example of the dishonest marketing rhetoric that is the standard aid industry response to outside questioning. Not only is there the inevitable reference to children, there’s also a classic bogus statistic. Yes, the British government may have paid for 11 million school places over the years, but even if DFID had proof that 11 million real children were genuinely enrolled in schools as a result of UK aid (itself a dubious claim), that does not mean that they actually attend those schools, or that the schools have teachers, or textbooks, or electricity, or are more than half-built wrecks. Mr Mitchell is either deliberately stretching the truth in this claim, or he knows startlingly, dismayingly little about the realities of aid delivery.
As for his boast about vaccinations ‘every two seconds throughout this parliament,’ Mr Mitchell must know that vaccination programmes form a minuscule proportion of the DFID annual spend and hardly justify an expansion of the department’s bloated budget. May I suggest a book that might help him? Aiding And Abetting: Foreign Aid Failures And The 0.7 Per Cent Deception, available from Civitas.