September 4, 2009 12:31PM

Foreign Aid Spent Domestically to Promote Foreign Aid

A new study by the International Policy Network in London documents how the United Kingdom’s foreign aid agency is spending money, much of it domestically, on NGOs to fund pro‐​aid lobbying and the promotion of political ideology.

Millions of pounds have gone to UK trade unions to enable teachers to “become global agents of change” and for other union members to celebrate “International Women’s Day,” for example. In one case, the UK’s Department for International Development created an NGO — Connections for Development — to provide a forum for minorities to discuss international development. The aid agency is the only donor to that “NGO” and has spent £600,000 on it.

Much of the funding goes on behind closed doors without the benefit of an open tendering system or the possibility of new applications, thus creating a closed circle that includes an increasingly elite group of supposedly independent NGOs.

Whether or not you favor foreign aid, it is thoroughly undemocratic to spend tax dollars lobbying for a particular government program, spending the money in non‐​transparent ways, and creating the impression of independent views that support such funding. Certainly, such a practice is inimical to the principles of a free society. And it surely reduces accountability. But that’s a problem that plagues all foreign aid programs whether the money is spent domestically or internationally — a problem that has not been solved and is widely recognized by aid critics and supporters alike. All the more reason to doubt the wild claims of those who would massively increase foreign aid. 

Aid is indeed encumbered, among other things, by the problem of no accountability for end results, so more aid is unlikely to work better. But rewarding an unaccountable system of aid delivery with dramatic increases in funds will only make the problem of accountability worse.