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The waste of development aid continues

The fact that presidents in poor countries buy exclusive private aircraft has become the very symbol of waste of aid money and loans. Now it has happened again – in Zambia.


"Borrowing loans of 400 millions to buy private aircraft is a hell of a hat, especially in a country like [Zambia]," Development Minister Nikolai Astrup told Aftenposten 14. October. We can all agree on this. This latest airplane purchase adds to the range of such examples from countries where people are starving. 400 million is four times the Norwegian aid to Zambia in 2017. It's a lot of money and it provokes. The flight purchase raises the question of whether aid works, whether to continue providing assistance, and how much to interfere with other countries' error priorities, waste and corruption. And who are we most concerned about in aid policy – are the poor people in the recipient country, the international donor community, or the opinion here at home?

Capital flight out of recipient country

Cuts in budget support in favor of project support, concentration of aid, multi-donor funds and assistance to the country's own tax system can be good measures for creating a more positive development in the recipient country. But what does it do if the country's top authorities do not participate in the team, but instead go ahead as a very poor example of the use of public funds – not to mention capital flight? According to Global Financial Integrity, the illegal flow of capital out of Africa is greater than the aid that comes in.

The illegal flow of capital out of Africa is greater than the aid that comes in.

If we cut off all aid, many Norwegian taxpayers will probably be satisfied, but it would be a shame for the successful aid projects that actually work, but which unfortunately is not heard much.

We can tell the person in question, that is, to the president, as Astrup did at the World Bank meeting in connection with the latter flight purchase. But how much influence does Norway really have in such a context? Do the criticisms bite, or are these measures that primarily satisfy Norwegian public opinion? Either way, it's important to say. Another president who has bought private aircraft is Filipe Nyusi from Mozambique. He will visit Norway in November. Would Astrup also want to tell Nyusi that the flight purchase was completely "hell in the hat"? We'll see.

Need for a clear anti-corruption agenda

Zero tolerance for corruption is a good approach and it is good that there are demands on the aid organizations so that there is more development for the money. But even more important is that assistance to anti-corruption measures in the recipient country is given higher priority, and that the cross-cutting UN Sustainable Sustainability Target (SDG 16) is integrated into the aid programs.

In the fight against corruption, civil society has an important function when it comes to holding the authorities accountable. But we know that civil society's scope for action is becoming smaller and smaller in many countries, and that this trend appears to be proportional to the level of corruption in the country's authorities. Support for a strong civil society with the rights and protection it entails should therefore be given higher priority.

The proposed aid budget for 2019 is larger than ever, with 37,8 billion. At the same time, some changes are signaled both in the layout and the management of this assistance. There are many considerations to take and no one doubts that aid is political. It may therefore be worth recalling the overarching goal of the UN Sustainability Goal: to eradicate poverty within 2030. Norwegian aid should contribute more effectively to this goal through a clear anti-corruption agenda.

Gro Skaaren-Fystro
Gro Skaaren-Fystro
Skaaren-Fystro is a special advisor in Transparency International Norway.

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