I count my sojourn as Minister of State for International Development as the most productive and useful of my time in Parliament. I was very sorry to be sacked, but then, one might say ‘I had it coming’. I certainly expected to be one first casualties of Theresa May’s premiership given -what they call in the trade- my “previous” (when I was David Cameron’s parliamentary secretary I twice tried to persuade him to sack her).
It was a privilege to have worked in an organisation that has justifiably acquired a tremendous reputation and respect throughout the international community.
It is staffed by dedicated and amazing people that have achieved tremendous results.
I have no doubt that the UK’s continued place at the top table in the counsels of the world owes much to expertise and professionalism of DFID.
I will wager that, of all the ‘wasted aid’ scandals that have so driven the readers of the Daily Mail into a state of apoplexy over the last decade, 99% of them will have been projects initiated and managed by the Foreign Office and not by DFID.
It is vital that this reorganisation in Whitehall is a genuine merger, and not an hostile takeover.
The influence and ethos of DFID needs to be extended within the new organisation and its management standards applied to the whole foreign aid budget.
The UK Aid brand will sustain some damage by the perceived loss of independent action. To minimise that damage we must maintain the current statutory requirement that foreign aid expenditure has to be for the relief of poverty. Equally, we must abide by the manifesto commitment not to tie aid to trade. We should continue to promote the trading abilities of the world’s poorest countries as part of our main effort, but we must eschew the example of so many other donors who see their development aid as a ‘loss-leader’ for their export drive.
Nevertheless we have to accept that official development aid is not charity.
Charity is when you dip your hand into your own pocket and distribute the contents without any expectation of return.
Development aid however, is extracted from our pockets with all the coercive force of the law. It is taxpayers’ money to be spent in the national interest. It is an investment from which we do indeed expect a return: it is our investment in a more stable and peaceful world in which we can be secure and prosper.
We cannot complain about the unsustainable wave of migration heading across the world unless we are prepared to invest in security and sustainable livelihoods in the places from which people are migrating.
I hope that this will be the focus of the new organisation.