Just a few weeks out from Micah Challenge’s Voices of Justice conference, News Ltd publications such as The Daily Telegraph are carrying a story questioning the Australian Government’s overseas aid commitment due to alleged rorting of payments.
The article begins: ‘Australia’s foreign aid program is under siege after revelations tens of millions of dollars are being wasted on mega-salaries for consultants and rich contracts for private firms. An extensive investigation revealed a lucrative foreign aid “industry”, raising questions on the Rudd Government’s decision to double funding to $8 billion-plus a year.’
The main issue raised by ‘aid experts’ is the payment of extremely high salaries to a variety of consultants. Examples listed include a senior justice adviser to East Timor receiving $757,960 tax-free paid out of Australia’s aid budget for a two-year contract. A consultant acting as Papua New Guinea’s law and justice adviser is receiving more than $500,000 per year tax-free, the article claims.
And a consultant working in Vanuatu as an energy advisor, has a two year contract worth $746,730. This person’s residential address is Melrose Drive, Los Angeles.
The report lays some of the blame for the alleged rorting to the government’s commitment to the UN’s Millenium Goals, the same goals which Christian organisation Micah Challenge is working tirelessly to see met.
A review of one large aid project funded by Australia in PNG is scathing of how aid money is being spent but did find something to be positive about – ‘particularly in health programs run by churches and other non-government organisations.’
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith agreed there was a need for changes in the aid program saying through a spokesperson that, ‘Advisers have been a feature of Australian aid over many years and, while we do not intend to pre-judge the outcome of the [PNG] review, it may be that there is an over-reliance on advisers in some countries.’
The problem with the Daily Telegraph article is that it fails to report on any of the positive outcomes of Australia’s overseas aids and so provides ready ammunition for the many in Australian society who would readily scrap aid altogether.
Wherever large sums of money are to be found, rorting and waste will usually be somewhere nearby – such are the imperfect systems of an imperfect world. But that’s no reason to pull back on aid. Rather it is time to make sure aid is targeted and managed well.
As hundreds of people gather in Canberra for Voices of Justice, their voices will be all the more important in keeping the value of overseas aid before politicians and, perhaps, also putting forward the worth of more directly involving value-driven churches and not for profit organisations in the delivery of aid. PH