News | Sunday, 16 November 2008

Malta aid figures show little cash reaches world’s poorest

Only a handful of development projects that receive “overseas development aid” from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are carried out in the world’s poorest countries: an indication that thousands of euros spent by the government might not be achieving real development aims.
Malta is committed to the EU to spend 0.17% of its gross national income by 2010 on development aid, as part of its commitment to the Millennium Development Goals to eradicate extreme poverty.
But while the foreign ministry’s own Overseas Development Aid policy places special emphasis on Africa, only three projects out of dozens that received aid money in 2007 and 2008 were spent directly on African projects. The rest of the money was spent on institutional donations.
Of the €233,000 it will spend this year in ODA, only one project involves money going to Africa, for the purpose of school construction in Kenya.
The rest of the money went to international institutions such as the United Nations and related relief funds, conferences, money for a Tunisian Christian cemetery, and for the Diplo Foundation, a training foundation for diplomats that is based in Malta.
And in 2007, when the ministry spent €175,618 as ODA, only two out of 11 grants focused on Africa: namely a Rotary Club project for a telecoms centre in Ankover in Eritrea; and a contribution to the Belgian Red Cross’s HIV action plan in Benghazi, Libya.
The other aid recipients included SOS Malta for the construction of playgrounds in Bethlehem; a container to be sent to Albania; and donations to the Commonwealth secretariat and the Diplo Foundation. Another donation was to a private company for the construction of stands for the Lisbon Development Days expo.

Genuine aid?
European and Maltese NGOs have already questioned the effectiveness of Malta’s aid, claiming the money does not actually leave Malta or is not spent on poverty-reduction programmes.
The foreign affairs ministry is earmarking €333,000 in funding for development NGOs for next year.
But in the past, the Maltese government has claimed it spent millions of euros on development aid.
NGOs doubt such claims, saying the money is inflated because it includes payments to asylum seekers in Malta, as well as scholarships. In 2007, the European Commission said Malta had spent €7 million in overseas development aid, while budgetary estimates show the foreign affairs ministry only approved €209,000 in ODA.
The rest of that money, NGOs believe, is made up of other items of expenditure such as money spent on the detention regime of asylum seekers.
Malta’s aid in 2004 was said to have been “deceptively doubled”, according to European development group Eurodad, betraying claims that the island topped its Millennium Development Goals target to contribute as much as 0.17% of GNI to poorer countries.
Eurodad said Malta’s aid included €3 million in costs related to refugees and asylum seekers.
But the foreign affairs ministry has so far refused to issue a clear and transparent breakdown of the declarations it makes to the European Commission on its overseas development aid.

Aid effectiveness
The effectiveness of development aid depends on how and where the money is spent: it needs to be physically moved out of the country and go directly to a development project that fulfils the MDGs in its aim.
In past years, Malta has been accused of including Lm2.8 million (€6.5 million), which represents the amount in Iraqi debt which it had cancelled, as part of the US-sponsored drive to clean Iraqi debt ahead of its reconstruction. The debt came from a botched trade deal in 1986, to exchange Malta-manufactured shoes in return for Iraqi oil.
Concord, an umbrella organisation for 1,600 European NGOs, said that debt cancellation only cleans up the balance sheet.
In the past, the foreign affairs ministry has defended its development aid record, saying it conformed to OECD directives.
Last year however, Labour MP Leo Brincat expressed concern with the “ever-growing complaint that not enough real money is reaching the people who need it most.”
Former foreign minister Michael Frendo also came under fire by NGOs who said Malta was pledging aid only upon condition that African asylum seekers are repatriated to their countries of origin.
Frendo rebutted the allegations, saying the Cotonou Agreement bound signatories to accept returned illegal immigrants. “‘Pacta sunt servanda’: Honouring international commitments is an issue of good governance which should be incentivised,” Frendo said.
But SKOP, a Maltese coalition of 17 NGOs, have argued against such logic in a letter replying to Frendo in MaltaToday.
“Migration policy should not be the criteria on which development aid is contingent… development aid should be for poverty eradication, and one cannot justify withholding that aid on anything that has got nothing to do with the eradication of poverty.”

Recipients of Malta’s foreign ministry ODA

2007 recipients Projects

SOS Malta Children of Bethlehem fund, cost of container to Albania
Rotary Club ICT centre, Eritrea
Belgian Red Cross Benghazi Action Plan
St John Rescue Corps Sponsorship
Commonwealth joint office Contribution
Commonwealth secretariat Contribution (Commonwealth Connects)
Diplo Foundation Contribution
Primo Group Lisbon Development Days

2008 recipients Projects

Inizjamed Funding Kenyan schools
UN High Commission for Human Rights Contribution
Diplo Foundation Climate change diplomacy project
Prelature Tunisian/Christian cemetery
Mission London Cyclone relief fund
UN General Fund Myanmar flash appeal
UN Relief Works Agency Lebanon donors conference
OPG Euro Reciepts Aeneas 2007 training programme



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