MINISTERS have no way of measuring the effectiveness of its £10 million international development budget, a new report has warned.

In a damning assessment, the report claims this leaves spending liable to be squandered on aid that provides no lasting benefit, or serves only to deliver politicians’ vanity projects.

It adds that claims made for the effectiveness of the current international aid programme are “optimistic, veering to disingenuous”.

The conclusions were part of a highly critical independent report on the first 10 years of the Scottish Government’s international development programme by thinktank the Springfield Centre. The centre’s founder, Alan Gibson, wrote the analysis in 2016, and it was submitted to ministers.

Mr Gibson, who tragically died of exposure hillwalking in the Highlands last week, concluded that, while ministers say their programme is based on distinctive qualities such as partnership, dignity and respect, “none of these translate into a coherent approach to development practice”.

Mr Gibson, who boasted a 25-year career in international development in more than 30 countries, was an expert in market-based approaches to alleviating poverty.

The report explores the Scottish Government’s motivation for spending £10m a year on international development – as overseas aid is theoretically reserved to Westminster.

It concludes the budget, introduced under the last Scottish Labour government and continued by the SNP, helps portray Scotland as compassionate and a good global citizen. The Scottish Government also believes expertise in areas such as renewable energy means Scotland can make a “distinctive contribution”.

But the report adds: “Comparatively speaking aid is not exposed to the same level of scrutiny … as other areas of public expenditure.

“For some critics, international development is therefore an ideal place for politicians’… vanity projects.”

Those who question or criticise such spending are themselves criticised, the report adds.

It says: “Protected by an aura of virtue and selfless idealism, aid’s intentions are frequently seen to outweigh more humdrum considerations (such as achievements). Analysis which is remotely critical is deemed unfair, as disloyal.”

The report points out that only one significant review of the Scottish Government’s international development programme has been carried out, in 2008.

Just two years after the funding was launched, it focused primarily on whether projects were being delivered.

It adds: “It had little substantive to say on impact and sustainability.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland has a proud history of being a good global citizen, and we are committed to playing our part in tackling global challenges including poverty, injustice and inequality, through our I International Development Fund which supports and empowers our partner countries.

“Among the many achievements since the international development programme was established in 2005 has been to increase the number of medical graduates in Malawi from 16 to over 100 every year and supporting the delivery of cervical cancer screening to more than 10,000 women in Malawi.”

Originally published in the Scottish Herald, Feb’18 

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