RORY STEWART, a former International Development Secretary, has warned the Government against spending aid money “on bullets rather than babies”.
Mr Stewart was speaking at an event on Monday evening at St James’s, Piccadilly, in London, organised by Christian Aid. He is standing as an independent candidate in the election for Mayor of London, after standing down as an MP.
Interviewing Mr Stewart at the event, the journalist Edward Stourton asked about stories that the Government planned to maintain the aid budget at 0.7 per cent of GDP, “but that the rules about what counts as aid might be changed, that . . . you could spend more of it on bullets and less on babies, for example”.
Mr Stewart replied: “If you start spending that money on bullets rather than babies, you’ve missed the point of what that money is there to do. . .
“Don’t call it international development if you’re spending it on soldiers. The point about international development is to have funds available which are genuinely designed to try to engage with issues of poverty and . . . environment, climate change, education, and health.”
Mr Stewart was also asked about reports that the Foreign Office would be merged with the Department for International Development (DfID). It was reported last month that the Prime Minister had dropped the plans (News, 10 January), but concerns were raised again this month after reports that the DfID junior ministerial team was now shared with the Foreign Office.
“If I was looking for one institution to take over another, I would probably want DfID to take over the Foreign Office rather than the Foreign Office to take over DfID,” Mr Stewart said. “The truth of the matter is that DfID has been lucky, over the last 15 years, to get much more investment, has been much more lucky at being able to attract civil servants, [and] has had much less political pressure.
“And if it is about managing a £14-billion budget specifically, DfID has the skills: the Foreign Office doesn’t. So, putting an ambassador in charge of an enormous budget is a mistake. Ambassadors are good at political work. . . But we should not kid ourselves that they can manage a health programme in rural Nigeria, and, if we try to make them do that, we’re going to end up with very bad results.”
Listen to an edited recording of the event here. An edited transcript will be published in next week’s Church Times.