From time to time, someone – usually a politician or journalist – issues a call that our overseas aid programmes “should be subject to the same tests of value for money as every other Government programme.” The implication of such statements is that somehow it isn’t already.
The truth is, that overseas aid is one of the most evaluated and assessed areas of Government expenditure.
The €670 million or so that is allocated to “Official Development Assistance” (ODA) actually is two areas of expenditure: first, there is the budget for Irish Aid, the government’s aid agency. And then there is a budget for Ireland’s participation in international organisations such as the EU and UN bodies, which is administered via the various line Ministries, such as the Departments for Agriculture and Health.
Both these areas of Government spending on development assistance are currently subject to oversight by:
- the Comptroller and Auditor General,
- the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee,
- the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee,
- the Department of Foreign Affairs Audit Committee and
- the Department’s Evaluation and Audit Unit.
This is what Irish Aid has to say about its Accountability:
“The management and expenditure of an expanding budget is a significant responsibility for Irish Aid. Like most public expenditure, the Irish Aid budget is voted expenditure, authorised by a vote of the Dáil each year (Vote 39 – International Cooperation), and must be managed in accordance with the public financial procedures governing the use of State resources.
In addition to the requirements of public financial procedures, rigorous systems are required to ensure full accountability and value for money for activities under all headings of the Irish Aid programme. The Evaluation and Audit Unit maintains the evaluation and audit function of Irish Aid. The process of internal audit provides assurances to management as to the effectiveness of the systems of internal control of Irish Aid and that public funds are being spent in accordance with the objectives of the programme. The evaluation reports of the E & A Unit are available to the public.
An Annual Report on Ireland’s Development Cooperation Programme, including detailed accounts of expenditure, has been published since 1978. The Annual Report is laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas on publication.”
This article on the Irish Aid website explains it better.
In addition to the Government’s development cooperation programme, people in Ireland also contribute to overseas aid – and do so generously – through the work of Ireland’s Development NGOs (usually referred to as “charities” or “aid agencies”). Sadly, however, much of the debate about the effectiveness or otherwise of these charities focuses on the proportion of their funding being spent on administration or other overheads. Only rarely does the public debate in Ireland focus on the long-term IMPACT of NGO work.
For surely, “value for money” is about impact?
Irish NGOs have clear criteria and views about what “effective aid” is: it must be carefully targeted, and must be based on the real needs of the people and communities it is trying to serve. Aid must be focused on helping people in developing nations achieve long-term self-sufficiency, and must be based on the principles of human rights. And aid must be managed along the highest standards of professionalism and accountability.
Professionalism, accountability and “value for money” require investment in personnel, in management systems. Without research, monitoring and evaluation, and without meaningful participation of the beneficiaries, programmes are unlikely to succeed, and “value for money” may turn out to be “Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish”.
Furthermore, Irish NGOs understand that aid works, but aid alone will not “develop” a country. At best, international development aid can provide support for a country’s internal processes of change and be a catalyst for change. Irish Development NGOs understand that their programmes can alleviate poverty at a small scale, but that they can only secure lasting improvements for the world’s poorest people if they can influence international political processes, by mobilising the skills, energies and power of others.
In short, accountability matters, when it comes to aid. And effectiveness matters when it comes to aid. And “effective” aid should be about working efficiently, and about finding effective – lasting – ways to end poverty. No small project indeed…