EARLIER this week the Director of Public Prosecutions announced that benefit fraudsters would now be treated like any other thieves and could face prison sentences of up to 10 years. That makes a lot of sense.
By: Stephen Pollard
Fraud needs to be stamped on – especially when hardworking taxpayers cash is being stolen. But when it comes to endemic fraud there’s another area that makes welfare cheating look like small fry. And yet far from prosecuting the thieves they are now being handed even more loot. It’s foreign aid.
The Government has just announced that it is going to hand over another £50million to Somalia. That makes a total of £130million so far this year. It takes a special kind of genius to find the area of spending most rife with fraud and then increase it. But that’s what the coalition is doing.
As part of David Cameron’s so-called “detoxification” of the Conservative brand when he was in opposition he pledged that aid spending would reach 0.7 per cent of GDP if he became PM. Even in times of plenty it was a ridiculous idea. It’s all very well wanting to help those of our fellow human beings who aren’t as lucky as us – a laudable aim. But the evidence that foreign aid isn’t the way to do that is overwhelming.
First, it simply doesn’t work. If it did the countries which have received most aid would be the countries that now stand out as models of improvement. But the evidence shows the opposite. Those that received the most aid over the past 60 years have remained the worst run, most anarchic of all the nations on earth – countries such as Somalia, Liberia, Zaire and Haiti.
Indeed many have got far worse since the aid started flowing. Second, much aid doesn’t even reach the intended beneficiaries. It is siphoned off to gangs, crooks and thieves. Only last month it emerged that nearly £500,000 of our aid had been taken from the government contractor by Al Shabaab, the Somali branch of Al Qaeda. Half the food provided by the Red Cross in Somalia is said to have been either looted or extorted and two-thirds of aid given to the country’s government between 2000 and 2010 is reported to have been stolen or diverted. And so we are now handing over another £50million as part of the goal of reaching £11.3billion aid spending by 2015 to meet the 0.7 per cent figure.
Justine Greening, the minister in charge of this madness, says: “Britain is already forging a new and special relationship with Somalia.” One might ask if she shouldn’t be forming a special relationship with some of our own people? Even if the aid budget was halved that would still mean handing over £5.5billion a year – and we could spend the other £5.5billion on promoting British prosperity. But even that misses the real point, which is that aid doesn’t work.
It’s important first of all to separate out emergency spending from ongoing aid. The evidence – and common sense – shows that when there’s an emergency there’s a lot we can do to help. That’s charity at its most basic. When there’s a natural disaster, for instance, we can fly out food, tents, blankets or whatever else is needed. But long-running aid can make things much worse.
Take Zimbabwe. Yes, food aid has helped save lives. But it has also helped keep a murderous tyrant in power which as well as costing lives has meant the steady destruction of what was once one of the most productive economies in Africa. Or take Somalia. Even before its 1992 famine Somalia had received more aid than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa. Much good it did it. When famine came its infrastructure was useless and its economy a basket case. Yet there was no reason why Somalia should have been that way. It was human intervention – aid – which enfeebled it.
In the Seventies Somalia had been self-sufficient in grain and able to cope with regular droughts. Then along came aid. Its ruler Mohammed Siad Barre took aid from both the USA and the USSR as each sought a Cold War foothold in Africa. And then, like a drug addict unable to function without a regular hit, Somalia became totally dependent on aid, its entire economic and government structure built on cash injections from outside. So when the civil war began in the Nineties it simply fell apart and the warlords helped themselves to ever greater amounts of aid that poured in.
The real path to stability and prosperity is not aid but as it has been throughout human history: enterprise backed by the rule of law and property rights that allow people to trade goods and resources. Look at what is actually working in Somalia. It has no functioning state to speak of. Its government is at best a joke and at worst a key part of the problem.
Yet it has three profitable mobile phone networks. The rise of mobile phones across Africa is the most promising story of the past few years. Forget aid. The new mobile networks provide a 21st-century form of infrastructure that can – up to a point – supersede the state. This is how Africa will prosper. Through its own people trading first with each other and then outside.
Almost every developed nation other than Britain ignores the 0.7 per cent target. Is it because they lack humanity? Of course not. It is because it misses the real point about how we can truly help those worse off than ourselves.