Kiwi aid integration: Success or failure?

Murray McCully, foreign minister of New Zealand. McCully claims that the move to integrate the country's aid institution into the office of foreign affairs was a huge success. Photo by: U.S. Embassay in New Zealand / CC BY-ND

Four years after integrating its aid institution into the ministry of foreign affairs, New Zealand’s top diplomat claims the move was a huge success.

The decision to absorb New Zealand Agency for International Development is already reaping gains with stable diplomatic and development situation in the Pacific, Kiwi foreign minister Murray McCully said on Thursday.

Not everyone agrees.

Terence Wood — research officer at the Canberra-based Development Policy Center and a former NZAid official — said this “success” holds no ground as concrete evidence is nowhere to be found.

“Minister McCully would say reintegration was a success [as] few politicians ever admit to failures. However, what he needs to do is present actual evidence of improvements,” Wood told Devex.

NZAid was created in 2002 by the former Labor government Helen Clark to fight poverty in the Pacific as a “semi-autonomous” entity with its own budget. But seven years later, Clark was defeated at the polls by incumbent Prime Minister John Key of the conservative National Party, who integrated the aid agency into the ministry of foreign affairs to cut costs and realign goals, among other reasons.

The move, which came under intense scrutiny from aid experts and NGOs alike since its implementation, and brought changes in the country’s foreign aid policy that are still being analyzed today.

Lack of evidence

McCully’s claim that integration has proven to be a “success” is baseless and even contradictory, according to Wood, who added: “There is [no evidence] that I’m aware of. Indeed in some important ways, things have gotten worse under McCully’s tenure.”

He cited the delays in getting humanitarian aid to local development NGOs providing famine relief work in the Africa due to the lengthy bureaucratic process involving the approval of the groups’ requests for funding in 2011. The decision, according to Wood, was given only after the news of the delays reached the media.

McCully’s statement comes at the wake of the recent re-integration of AusAID into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade ordered by new Prime Minister Tony Abbott to trim the fat in the country’s bureaucracy. This decision has been harshly criticized by NGOs heavily dependent on Australian aid.

Wood said these integration moves — whether they make sense or not — are a question of “should” — rather than “could” — these governments do it.

“The question to ask in the Australian case is not whether it can be done, anything’s possible, but whether it should,” he explained. “Just as it is hard to see what was gained through integration in New Zealand, it is hard to see what there is to be gained by dismantling AusAID.”

Despite these criticisms, however, Wood said McCully should still be lauded for giving aid a specific role in his department without totally compromising humanitarian policy — something he hopes Australian aid under new foreign minister Julie Bishop will also do.

“The only thing to be said for what occurred in New Zealand is that at least the minister kept the aid program as a distinct group within the ministry, rather than fully integrating aid work into the ministry country desks. This has allowed continued coherence in some aid work and has kept some aid expertise intact,” noted Wood. “If Australia really must integrate AusAID, we sincerely hope they follow McCully and at least keep the aid program a distinct entity with DFAT.”

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.