Dutch government will cut € 1 billion on development cooperation: the missing link according to NL-Aid

Posted on | maart 30, 2012 | No Comments

The Netherlands spends 0.7% of its GNP on development cooperation (foreign aid), resulting into € 4 to 5 billion annual. To compare: Spain and Italy spend € 2,5 billion, Australia and Switzerland € 1,5 billion, Sweden € 2,7 million, the UK € 7,8 million and the USA € 19 million (see Millennium map where the countries are drawn in proportion to expenditure). The Dutch government will cut € 1 billion. Will they lose ground as a world player? Is this justified?

According to Gerbert van der Aa, journalist and historian, only 33% of the Dutch development aid is successful, another 33% fails and of the remaining 33% the effect is unclear.

It is hard to tell whether Dutch aid is effective or not. There are opponents and proponents. You figure it out! But who is right? This uncertainty is the root of the problem, because it creates no support among the Dutch people.

The Netherlands has spent € 100 billion on aid in the last 50 years, apart from private donations. This is 100% tax money. The money is decentralized through all kinds of foundations, like Oxfam Novib, Hivos, Icco and Cordaid. In the Netherlands, the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to foundations. This results to secret writings, because the tax payer cannot read or demand reports about output. Everything happens behind drawn curtains. Foundations are not very critical and only produce flyer talk. Critical passages are embedded in the transshipment of good news show. There is no transparently of the reality. Audits are focused on financial statements. It is a play of accounting figures. There is no audit on track record, output, outcome or whatsoever within vertical relations (between the Dutch government and foundations on one hand and between foundations and NGOs in the South on the other hand). Even the Dutch Inspectorate for development cooperation (Inspectie Ontwikkelingssamenwerking en Beleidsevaluatie - IOB) is not authorized to examine where our tax money is used for. There is only an accounting relationship. And even this bookkeeping (=our tax money) is not made public for the audience. We can only download overall figures.

Dutch foundations found a weapon for defense: a national mark like CBF (Central Bureau on Fundraising). The CBF is controlled by the Accreditation Council (Raad van Accreditatie, RVA) to authorize certification bodies to certify. The RVA is not a typical development organizations, but a general organisation to monitor management systems, persons or product. They do not check tax money vs the effectiveness or efficiency of aid.

Cordaid has received an ISO certification of TNO Quality. It took some effort to find this out. TNO Quality reports that they have no specific label for charities but they have a general quality standard for procedures, processes and continuous improvements. The reports are not public (of course). In short, TNO Quality has no direct relationship with aid or output. Personally I find this very remarkable. Cordaid receives an annual € 160 million to spend on subsidies. They have enough money for their administration. Why test it? To my view, if you can proof your output, the dignity of your whole organisation like the administration and management, is proven. It is the same as the abolition of school exams to evaluate the effectiveness of a school. According to Cordaid and TNO Quality one should just check out the management system of a school.

In short, this all is all very vague. My final conclusion is therefore: development organisations cannot prove their effectiveness in output for decades. On behalf of the Dutch people, the Dutch government spend € 281, – (annually) on development aid for each citizen. For a family with two children (=four people), this means € 1,125.00 per year. In 10 years this means € 14,000.00 (*). Each family will pay € 56,000.00 (*) in 25 years. Some form of justification about what happened with the tax money seems in place.
(*) = including 4% interests

Bill Gates has asked the Dutch government not to cut foreign aid as part of its current discussions on how to comply with European rules limiting deficit spending (see business News). He even invited right-wing political leader Geert Wilders to accompany him to Africa to see development aid at work (see Irish Times). Of course, if famous people get a tour they will experience beautiful things and perfect aid in balance with all stakeholders. But when a ordinary citizen is asking questions, he gets nothing. I would like to suggest Gates to pick up the phone, call USAID, introduce himself as John Smith and start asking questions about solid scientific proof concerning output. Perhaps he can also ask if USAID is willing to share audit details and accounting statements to John Smith. He may call me afterwards to share his experiences…..

Foundations have been negligent and they should look in the mirrow. They had the best cards in hand but they have ruined it themselves. With € 100 billion, Dutch foundations have not been able to create support from public opinion.

In Sweden, the Freedom of Information Act applies to all foundations. They are accountable to every citizen with questions. This is and always has been the missing link within the Dutch development sector. NL-Aid has always advocated for this idea. Until changes, I see € 1 billion in cuts only as a beginning. I am in favor of foreign aid but not if it goes along with secret writings to keep citizens in the dark.

To Mr. gates: What is quantity without quality? More of the same is not sufficient if it is not good from the start. You ask for quantity of the Dutch government, but we should start by changing the culture of aid. Only then quantity has a proper basis.

AUTHOR: Hans Sluijter
URL: www.NL-Aid.org
E-MAIL: info [at] www.NL-Aid.org

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