Boris Johnson’s historic decision to abolish the standalone Department for International Development (Dfid) and roll its functions into the Foreign Office is long overdue.
Ever since David Cameron expanded Britain’s aid budget to 0.7 per cent of GDP, scandal after scandal has emerged about millions of pounds of hard-pressed UK taxpayers’ money being shovelled into dubious projects to meet this arbitrary target.
The budget for this bloated department has reached an astonishing £14.6billion this year. Incredibly, Dfid now has 3,700 employees, and cost £326m to operate last year alone.
For that, you’d expect money to be spent on vital projects truly improving the lives of desperate people in the world’s poorest countries. Sadly not.
Here are a few examples of how taxpayers’ money was frittered away by this unlamented department:
£99m to boost China’s ‘economic growth’
China is the world’s secondlargest economy, now funding – on a commercial basis Hinkley C nuclear power plant plus other infrastructure projects here. Yet Dfid has spent hundreds of millions on 57 aid projects in China.
As much as £99m was allocated to promoting ‘inclusive growth’. There is £95,000 (enough for three NHS nurses) being spent on helping China come up with ‘climate risk assessment’ – in a country building coal-fired power stations.
We are also spending an undisclosed sum tackling salt consumption among Chinese children and their families, plus almost £60,000 on offshore wind turbines to support China’s ‘transition to a low-carbon economy’.
£300m in free money for people in Pakistan
Seemingly having run out of ideas for grand aid projects to fund, the UK Government doled out money directly to hundreds of thousands of Pakistani families.
Three years ago, photos emerged of people in Peshawar queuing at a cashpoint to withdraw money on cards loaded with funds from UK taxpayers.
Costs ballooned from £53m in 2005 to £219m between 2011-2015. One MP said it was akin to ‘exporting the dole.’
Palm oil plantations in the Congo
2013 – ongoing
Palm oil plantations have been widely condemned for their terrible environmental damage, but it hasn’t stopped Dfid sending millions to subsidise Congolese agribusiness Feronia, which runs a palm oil farming and processing business in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Dfid hasn’t disclosed exactly how much it has spent but the subsidy takes up a share of the £63m of UK taxpayer money that was sent to the DRC this year.
£25m for ‘rainmakers’ who watch ants
2009 – 2014
UK taxpayers shelled out an astonishing £25m on a project that included persuading Kenya’s meteorologists to work with Nganyi ‘rainmakers’ — who claim to be able to forecast rain by watching ants and listening to the call of certain birds and the croaks of toads, but were said to be ‘flummoxed by climate change’.
The plan was to come up with a ‘consensus’ weather forecast.
‘At the beginning of the project, the interactions between the meteorologists and rainmakers was characterised by mutual scepticism,’ Dfid admitted, perhaps not surprisingly about the project, two years after it began in 2009.
‘The two groups . . . successfully made joint seasonal weather forecasts.’ Thank goodness for that.
£29m for climate change in Tanzania
2015 – ongoing
As residents along the Rivers Wye and Severn found in February, the Government may not have much of a plan on how to protect British homes against flooding, but it is nice to know £29m of taxpayers’ money has been allocated to ‘building urban resilience to climate change’ in Tanzania.
£95m to India despite £100m Moon landing
Since 2017, India has spent £100m launching a probe that got to the Moon last year — and even has its own foreign aid programme, which spent £620m in 2018.
Despite this, British taxpayers have given £95m over two years in aid to the country, including £26,000 on promoting the employment of women in India’s energy sector.
Share of £12m for the Ethiopian Spice Girls Ended 2017 The Government planned to hand out £11.8m between 2015 and 2018 to an organisation called Girl Effect, which promoted empowerment of women in the developing world. It included funding a girl band called Yegna, often dubbed the ‘Ethiopian Spice Girls’.
The project was stopped after a review by Priti Patel, now Home Secretary, when she was International Development Secretary in 2017.
£11m for solar panels in Nigeria
The UK’s taxpayers fund 50 projects in Nigeria, among them a project to install £11.3m of solar panels to promote green energy. But we also give £19.5m to promote Nigeria’s oil industry.