Politics overshadow D & P cuts
By Michael Swan
While the bishops are asking the government to explain a 68 per cent cut in CIDA funding to the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, development experts and opposition politicians are offering explanations the bishops are unlikely to hear from the government.
Wilson Pritchart, a University of Toronto development expert, said domestic politics is lurking behind CIDA funding decisions.
"What the government in fact is doing is cutting funding to organizations that are critical of it, that are critical of the aid agenda, and to some extent cutting funding to NGOs that are at all political in favour of using NGOs as conduits for service delivery," Pritchart told The Catholic Register.
The Canadian Council for International Co-operation, a kind of trade association for development aid agencies, believes CIDA decisions are being driven by economic interests.
"They see it (development) more and more as a tool to promote Canada's interests - business interests - overseas," said CCIC spokeswoman Chantall Harvard, "and geopolitical interests as well."
That's no way to run a development policy, she added.
"The first objective of ODA is not to promote Canadian business," she said. "The Official Development Assistance Accountability Act, endorsed by Parliament in 2008, clearly states that ODA money should contribute to poverty reduction, take into consideration the perspective of the poor, and follow all human rights objectives and standards."
Ideology and election strategy are other factors contributing to CIDA's recent funding decisions, said Liberal international development critic Mark Eyking.
Quebec-based NGOs like CCODP, headquartered in Montreal, have faced major cuts or outright refusal, while new agencies with a thin track record headquartered in Western Conservative ridings have done very well, Eyking said.
CIDA insisted it could not tell The Catholic Register how or why it decided to slash CCODP's funding from $44.6 million between 2006 and 2011 to $14.9 million between 2011 and 2016.
CCODP was told in a letter, "Project components in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Indonesia, and the Philippines were assessed as most likely to deliver strong, sustainable results."
NDP international co-operation critic Jinny Sims believes the long-term goals of development assistance are being undermined.
"Our government is turning away from long-term sustainable change. It seems that their only criteria is immediate, short-term results that may have no long-term impact," she said.
Part of the problem is an increasingly short-sighted, almost naive set of assumptions about what development assistance can and should do, said Pritchart. Sustainable capacity is needed; "It's not good enough to just dig the well."
The bid system now in use for CIDA funding not only devalues long-term relationships between Canadian agencies and NGOs in the south, it also wastes time and resources, said Harvard. "It costs between $10,000 and $30,000 just to prepare one proposal."
Most of the bids will spend money diverted from aid and will fail.
The new competitive bid process has left aid agencies scratching their heads about what criteria CIDA is using to judge bids.