DURING the middle of September, David Cameron told MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions that Britain could ‘hold its head up high’ because it was not cutting its international aid budget at a time of drastic cutbacks in other areas of government expenditure.
And towards the end of September, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, told a meeting of the United Nations in New York that Britain would increase foreign aid spending. Indeed, the foreign aid budget had been set at 9 billion pounds (for 2010) and had been ring fenced.
Defending the move to boost overseas aid - even as the Con-Dem Government were making plans to slash public services here – Mr. Clegg said it was not an act of ‘naive altruism’. While he understood many were questioning why the coalition should ring-fence foreign aid, he said there was ‘enlightened self-interest’ at stake.
So what are we – as nationalist trade unionists – to make of all this? We spoke to Solidarity National Executive member David Kerr who told us:
“Firstly, I’d like to state that I feel very sorry for those people who require foreign aid. Those folk who suffered enormously from the effects of the recent earthquake in Haiti and the dreadful floods in Pakistan come to mind. Anyone with an ounce of humanity will know that their situation is absolutely desperate and it’s quite right for us to lend a helping hand.
However, some of the nations and continents that we send foreign aid to – China, India and parts of Africa – are rich in many respects.
For instance, China is emerging as the world’s power house. The same goes for India – which can also afford to build its own aircraft carrier, has nuclear missiles and its own space programme! Africa itself is rich in minerals and has probably the land to grow enough food to feed the world. In the latter case, much of the foreign aid undermines local agriculture and industry and fails to reach those who really need help.
There’s always the suspicion that a lot of aid goes astray, diverted to buy Mercedes limousines, private jets and vanity projects for political leaders. How many times have you seen TV footage of African warlords and drug barons complete with enough fire power to start World War lll?”
Belfast-based Mr. Kerr noted that as a trade unionist he shared a concern for the world’s poor and the tragedies they confront every day. That said, he couldn’t work out why the government has increased foreign aid – and ring fenced it as well! This needs to be reviewed rather than ring-fenced. He could understand – and support – ring fencing spending on health and education at home, but felt that we should start dramatically cutting back on foreign aid starting with China and India.
In June this year we carried an article (Equality for All? Of 05/06/2010) about the lack of opportunities for special needs children in Northern Ireland, once they leave school at 19. We noted that there’s a real need for some form of special needs third level education. However, if this was put to Stormont they’ll simply say that Westminster has cut £128m from the Northern Ireland budget. Basically, there’s no money.
”All trade unionists will know that the Con-Dem government is going to cut £81Billion from public spending over the next four years. However, how many trade unionists know that during 2008/09 ‘UK bilateral aid spending in China’ was an astonishing £40.2 Million? Of this, 23% was spent on education. Now, I’ve nothing against China or the Chinese people, but it’s galling to see Westminster spending nearly £10 Million on education in China when it won’t lift a finger to help post-19 special needs children here in Ulster.”
Mr. Kerr concluded by saying that patriotic trade unionists wanted all available monies to be spent helping British workers and their families. We need to put our own house in order first and restrict overseas aid to disaster aid for the foreseeable future.