Top Story of the Week: Drama Down Under

The Australian government came under fire this week following a review of its aid program in Papua New Guinea and its proposed increased spending for Africa.

“There is a perceived lack of impact, and failure to obtain value‐for‐money,” read the review of the PNG‐Australia Development Cooperation Treaty. “While some recognize its values and stress achievements, others are more dismissive of the program as a whole. These perceptions themselves would be a cause for concern, but they also reflect a growing body of evidence which strongly suggests that substantial change is needed.”

The review was dated April 19 but was only released by AusAID on May 24. A three-person panel conducted the review, and included a nominee each from Australia and PNG and a joint nominee of the two governments.

The review notes the heavy reliance on technical assistance for capacity-building efforts under the aid program in PNG, an aspect that the panel said is the “most controversial.” It said that technical assistance makes up “about half of the aid program, perhaps more,” with related personnel numbering 360.

The Australian newspaper Herald Sun also conducted a probe on AusAID’s programs and found that some consultants providing technical assistance are paid six-figure sums, tax-free, earning more than Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

In a May 25 interview with ABC2’s “Breakfast,” Bob McMullan, the Australian parliamentary secretary for international development assistance, said he welcomes the review and stressed that the current government is now undertaking aid reforms, paring down spending on technical assistance and channeling more aid money through non-governmental organizations.

McMullan also defended the Australian government’s decision to increase aid to Africa to around 400 million Australian dollars by 2015, which some have criticized as a ploy to gain support for Australia’s bid for a United Nations Security Council seat. He said Australia “should be part of the solution” to Africa’s problems.

“This is Australia in a very small way, about five percent of our aid budget, focusing where Australians through their own contributions show they think the need is the greatest,” he told the Australian TV program.

About the author

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    Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.