The international development secretary is holding back £21m worth of aid that was due to go to the government of Rwanda after “credible and compelling” reports that the central African country is backing anti-government rebels in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Justine Greening’s decision marks a reversal of the policy favoured by her predecessor, Andrew Mitchell of “plebgate” fame, who authorised a payment of £8m to Rwanda on his last day in the job.
Is this a suitable sanction for the rulers of Rwanda, and are they any worse than other countries Britain continues to fund through the foreign aid budget?
What’s happening to Rwanda?
The Department for International Development (DfID) was due to give Rwanda about £75m this year. The decision to hold £21m back means the total amount of money to be donated to the country is now about £54m.
DfID told us the money they are cutting would have been handed over directly to the Rwandan government as “general budget support”, whereas the remaining money still to be spent is earmarked for specific projects over which Britain is supposedly able to exercise more control.
A spokesman told us that no decision has yet been made about what happens to that £21m, leaving open the possibility that Rwanda could in fact eventually get hold of the money if it convinces the British government that it is no longer meddling in the DRC.
The official reason for the decision is that new evidence collected by the United Nations – which emerged after Mr Mitchell signed off the last payment – proves that Rwanda is supporting the M23 rebels in Congo.
That breaches the undertaking Rwanda made in the 2006 memorandum of understanding with the UK to promote “peace and stability” in the region.
The Rwandan government has repeatedly denied having any involvement with the insurgents.
Today the development select committee said Mr Mitchell had seen already seen evidence of collusion with the rebels when he approved the last payment to Rwanda, adding: “We do not understand how he concluded that Rwandan support for M23 had ceased.”
Who else gets our money?
Other countries with questionable track records are still in receipt of hundreds of millions of pounds from the British taxpayer.
In 2010 the coalition decided to focus direct aid on 28 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, DRC, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Pakistan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, South Sudan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uganda, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The top 10 recipients of UK money this year are Ethiopia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Afghanistan, DRC, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.
While there is no suggestion that these countries have, like Rwanda, breached the terms of their agreements with DfID, many are far from paragons of virtue, with institutional corruption a key concern.
Pakistan, the country which is set to receive the most aid from Britain by 2015 – £446m – is rated 134th out of 178 countries on Transparency International’s latest corruption perceptions index (the lower the number, the more corrupt the country’s citizens think it is).
Ethiopia, which is expected to get the next highest amount, £390m in 2014/15, is in 120th place. Nigeria (£305m by 2014/15) is 143rd and Afghanistan (£178m) is almost rock-bottom at number 180.
Ironically, Rwanda got the best score of any of the 28 countries on DfID’s priority list for public perception of corruption, coming in at number 49.
The US-based democracy monitor Freedom House classes 12 of those 28 countries as “not free”: Afghanistan, Burma, DRC, Ethiopia, the Palestinian Territories, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tajikistan, Yemen and Zimbabwe.
Bangladesh, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia were all considered only “partly free”, while just three countries – Ghana, India and South Africa – were judged to have fully-functioning democracies.
The specific allegation levelled against Rwanda – that it is supporting rebel groups trying to overthrow the government in a neighbouring country – has also been made against other recipients of aid.
Last year Ethiopia openly declared its support for anti-government fighters in neighbouring Eritrea.
Sudan and South Sudan are both widely accused of backing insurgents operating in the other country.
And in July 2010 David Cameron accused Pakistan of “looking both ways” by covertly helping insurgents in Afghanistan while publicly declaring support for coalition forces.
The accusation provoked angry denials from Islamabad. Mr Cameron later said he believed there was a distinction between the government of Pakistan and some state agencies.
DfID says it monitors its aid programmes rigorously to ensure money is not lost via corruption.
The department says it is “committed to being a global leader on transparency”, adding: “In the current financial climate, we have a particular duty to show that we are achieving value for every pound of UK taxpayers’ money that we spend on development.”
Many UK funding agreements are said to be contingent on foreign governments promising to clean up their acts.
For example, DfID says the expected increase in aid to Pakistan “will depend on how fast the country improves… Increased aid to Pakistan will be linked to progress on reform as the government of Pakistan takes steps to build a more dynamic economy, tackle corruption and bring stability.”
And in Zimbabwe, the current aid budget of £80-90m a year could go up considerable, but only after free and fair elections are held.
DfID told us they can and do take action against countries they consider to have broken bilateral agreements.
All direct aid to Uganda is currently on hold pending an investigation into allegations that aid money has been misused by the country’s government.
Justine Greening has also announced the phasing out of direct aid to India over the next two years, after talks with Delhi, in recognition of the country’s growing economic status.
By Patrick Worrall