Aid Cut

One of the Joe Clark’s last trials in External Affairs was trying to stop Michael Wilson from cutting the Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget. Last year, he largely succeeded. And, for a few seconds after this year’s budget, it looked as though he had pulled it off again. Michael Wilson and Monique Landry announced that ODA would have a 5% cash increase in 1991–92. But a few days later, it was evident that Landry and Wilson had lied (albeit creatively), and Clark, mistaking Cabinet loyalty for virtue, was an accomplice.

The lie revolves around the redefinition of aid. Rather than admit that they had cut the aid budget, the government simply lumped together other expenditures that previously had not been considered as aid. If you use the new definitions and compare last year’s expenditures to 1991–92,then there was a massive cut rather than a 5% increase. It is unfortunate that cabinet ministers are not prosecuted for breach of trust or fraud.

It was not until early April that the disguised cuts began to sting. On 2 April, CUSO was informed that CIDA was cutting $875,000 from the CUSO budget. The Organisation canadienne de solidarite pour le developpement (OCSD) suffered a smaller cut, but Canada World Youth, the Canadian Teachers Federation, and Canadian Crossroads International lost millions.

The cuts were framed in terms of financial restraint, but the motives were at least as political as they were fiscal. For instance, CUSO was told that they were not to touch the cooperant budget (the one that pays for non–CUSO staff–persons working abroad), nor the administration budget. Instead, CUSO was specifically told to cut its program budget, which means closing some overseas CUSO offices, and downsizing the number of CUSO development staff overseas. In a nutshell, CIDA is trying to squeeze CUSO out of development work.

This interpretation of the cuts is entirely consistent with other recent CIDA’s actions. The decentralization of CIDA’s own overseas operations has resulted in a marked increase in CIDA direct–funding of projects in developing countries. Canadian NGOs are reporting that CIDA is approaching their partners overseas, and offering to fund then directly instead of through Canadian NGOs.

Yet, in its own policy document (Sharing Our Fortune, 1987), CIDA had outlined a major shift towards partnership, recognizing the importance of people–to–people and sector–to–sector links. In effect, and to its credit, CIDA was admitting in its 1987 policy document that the NGO approach to development had been correct; and Marcel Masse, the head of CIDA, reiterated that point of view at the 1991 CIDA retreat held at Mont Ste–Marie.

CIDA’s actions tell a different story, however. More and more, CIDA wants to decide who gets Canadian funds and what they’re used for. More and more, CIDA will reflect the pro–business attitude of the Mulroney government, and the so–called development perspective of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It is no accident, for instance that CIDA has merged its Special Programs Branch (Which funds CUSO and the other groups mentioned above) with its Business Cooperation branch – to be known as the BUSINESS and Special Programs Branch.

A Canadian version of the Inter–American Development Bank is unmistakably replacing a partnership structure.

The Nordic countries have long channelled their aid through domestic NGOs, and the European Community has recently agreed to channel their aid to Central America via domestic NGOs linked with overseas NGOs.

Why? Because they find this to be cost–effective; because they recognize the different between development and political objectives; because they believe that linking people to people is the way to encourage mutual development; because they have doubts about traditional bilateral aid.

And Canada? Not only is our government incapable of appreciating the Nordic and EC point of view, it evens refuses to be honest about aid program: lying about aid cuts, saying one thing about development and doing something else in the field.

This article appeared in The Connexion Digest #54, February 1992.

Editorial in Central America Update, published by the Latin American Working Group and The Jesuit Centre for Social Faith and Justice. Subscriptions $15/year from Box 2207, Station P, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2T2.



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