The Politics of New Zealand's Aid

A series of changes in New Zealand’s aid program indicates “worrying trends” on how the donor nation gives its aid, a former staffer of the country’s aid program says.

First, the new aid minister, Murray McCully, has cut a number of “well-regarded” development projects, according to Terence Wood, now a doctoral student at the Australian National University.

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“No good reason has been offered for these cuts by the Minister, often they appear to have come out of the blue. And it is a real worry to think that decisions about aid projects are now being made in such an ad-hoc manner,” Wood writes in the “Development Policy” blog.

Second, the minister has been “openly contemptuous” of development professionals, using terms such as “so-called development professionals” and “desk jockeys” when referring to aid workers, Wood notes.

“Terms which make it pretty clear that he places little stock in their advice. Instead, he appears to be much more keen on the advice on a group of friends and political associates. Which probably explains why, at his behest, a contract for aid funded work on tourism in Niue was awarded to former Wellington mayor (and National Party member) Mark Blumsky,” Wood explains.

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Third, Wood notes that McCully has chosen to finance “some rather questionable new aid projects” such as subsidizing Air New Zealand flights from Samoa and Cook Islands to Los Angeles.

“The subsidy might have development benefits – linking relatively isolated island states to markets – or it might not. And, even if it does have development benefits the money devoted to it might be more effective elsewhere,” Woods writes. “The decision to subsidise was of the type that requires careful analysis before being acted on. And yet there’s no evidence that such analysis fed into the Minister’s decision. More worryingly still, the subsidy was awarded directly to Air New Zealand instead of through the best-practice approach: to put the services out to tender and see which of the various airlines servicing the region could deliver best value for money. Which makes the whole affair seem remarkably like corporate welfare.”

He concludes: “If we really want aid to work, we need to do more than just study what happens in the field. We also need to understand what happens in the capital cities of donor countries. We need to study the impact of ideology, lobbying, and campaigning. And we need to learn what shapes the views of the politicians who have the final say on how aid is given. If we don’t, we may end up learning a lot about what works on the ground, and yet remain powerless to see it enacted.” 

About the author

  • Ma. Rizza Leonzon

    As a former staff writer, Rizza focused mainly on business coverage, including key donors such as the Asian Development Bank and AusAID.