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Massive CIDA gutting on the way?


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The recent senate report on Africa is recommending a total dismantlement of CIDA (Canada's International Development Agency)

Here's a recent editorial about it:

CIDA failing them, us

Thu Feb 22 2007

ONLY a couple of days before a Senate committee delivered its judgment on the manner in which Canada distributes billions of dollars in foreign aid every year, a poll asked Canadians how they felt about helping others around the world this way.

The report of the Senate foreign affairs committee last week was discouraging and an indication of an urgent need for change. The results of the poll, released Monday by the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute were heartening, but also a sign that the public shares some of the concerns the senators voiced about the way the Canadian International Development Agency handles aid.

The Senate report deals with sub-Saharan Africa where CIDA has spent $12.4 billion since 1968 without much benefit to Africans. Part of the problem, it says, is that 80 per cent of CIDA's staff is in Ottawa rather than Africa; the ratio should be reversed. Part of it is that CIDA's relations with many non-governmental organizations that facilitate aid delivery are cool at best -- one witness testified that it is "one of the slowest bilateral aid agencies in the world" and "pathologically risk averse."

The major criticism, however, is that CIDA spreads Canadians' money too thinly among too many countries to accomplish any lasting good in any one nation. CIDA itself has recognized this. More than five years ago it announced a plan to concentrate aid in fewer countries. In 2005 it promised that Canada would distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving poor in granting aid. Aid dollars would be targeted at underdeveloped nations that are demonstrating a commitment to democracy, human rights and the free-market economy.

The success of CIDA in implementing that strategy can perhaps be measured by the fact that in the year 2000, when the agency adopted it, it donated aid to 120 nations; in 2006, when it was still adopting it, that number had swollen to 161 countries.

The report recommends that CIDA be abolished and the business of handling foreign aid be turned over to the Department of Foreign Affairs. Whatever the solution, the commitment that Canadians have to maintaining and increasing foreign aid is deeply held, a humanitarianism that deserves a better vehicle to carry it out than CIDA has offered. A majority of Canadians, according to the poll, agrees with the senators that foreign aid -- CIDA has about $4.5 billion this year to spend -- should be concentrated on only a few countries in the hope that it can actually accomplish something useful. They are more evenly divided about whether this country should set political, economic and human rights standards of eligibility for aid, but few, one suspects, see the sense in giving millions to China so that Beijing can use its own money to prop up brutal regimes in Africa. Canadians do overwhelmingly agree -- 70 per cent -- that this country is morally obliged to help the world's poor. They can help do that by asking Ottawa not only to increase foreign aid, but also to spend it more wisely.

I see this as possibly going 1 of 2 ways, using the report as impetus to chop staff and funding from CIDA (and taking the good and the bad out at the same time), or putting our heads together and figuring out how aid dollars can be more useful to those they're supposed to serve (including reducing canadian overhead, massive staffing in Ottawa, shitloads of administrative red tape, etc.). Unfortunately wtih the current gov't in charge I have my doubts.

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I worked at CIDA for a couple of years, talked to a fellow who had just got back from the field in Africa- he called field work the 'Cocktail Circuit', thought that was interesting.

Anyway I think CIDA is okay on a small scale- as in helping individual villages for example (setting up wells, schools etc;) but ont he large scale the powers in place don't necessarily want the common people empowered.

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Here's a response from the Global Citizens for Change Coalition:

The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s report on Sub-Saharan Africa has ignited a much-needed debate on aid to that continent. Far too many citizens of Africa continue to live in grinding poverty, despite the billions of dollars spent by well-meaning western agencies and individuals. Yet amidst the challenges posed by under-development, conflict, corruption and HIV/AIDS, we should remember that there are many examples where assistance has made a real difference in people’s lives.

However, our organizations agree with the committee’s call for aid to be better rooted in the actual realities of Africa. More decision-making powers on how aid is spent should be in the hands of the communities directly affected. That’s how most volunteer-cooperation agencies work -- in partnership with community groups trying to reduce poverty.

We do need improvements to the way Canada administers its Official Development Assistance through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) - both in what we support and how best to administer this assistance. But we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. We must not lose sight of the many successes the agency supports; for example, the efforts of the dedicated Canadian volunteers we send to the field who are responding to development needs as expressed by Africans themselves.

Aid, of course, has never been the full answer to poverty reduction. As called for by the Senate committee, we must look at Canada’s trade policies, to ensure our borders are open to African businesses. It does not help Africa if international trade policies are skewed in favour of heavily subsidized industries in the west, while dumping below-cost goods on fragile markets in developing countries.

We must also continue to advocate for debt cancellation for the world’s poorest countries, and ensure that future World Bank and IMF grant and loan conditions do not diminish a national government’s ability to invest in health and education. And we must take action on threats to life and human rights in Africa – in Darfur and elsewhere on the continent.

While we agree with the Senate report’s call for greater economic development, we caution that support for health, education and an active civil society remain critical. In fact, these investments in people are prerequisites for the sustained economic growth envisioned in the report. Failure to invest in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs, including access to affordable medicines, will doom economic development efforts. In countries most burdened by the disease, the pandemic ravages people in their most productive years and lays waste to local economies.

While the Senate committee is wary of direct support to African governments, we believe that within a framework of accountability and results, Canadian funding to democratic and effective governments can help ensure appropriate investment in basic health and education systems to meet the needs of their citizens.

One of the committee’s boldest recommendations is to create an Africa Office that would see development, diplomatic and trade personnel working under one roof. While it may sound logical, it may in fact weaken the committee recommendation to better ground aid in the realities of Africa -- Canadian trade and geo-political interests could take precedence over ending poverty. Trade, aid, diplomacy and security have interconnected but separate goals.

We believe that wide-ranging reforms at CIDA can lead to the improved aid programs the Senate report calls for, along with the appointment of a senior Minister, a proposed legislative framework on aid making its way through Parliament, and clear and measurable objectives.

By all means, let’s take a clear-eyed view of our involvement in Africa’s development. Ultimately, the best way to end debates on foreign aid is to build local economies and end poverty. From first-hand experience, Canada’s volunteer-cooperation agencies have seen that a better future is possible and within our reach. We hope the Senate report will help feed a sense of urgency - not despondency - for continued and constructive Canadian engagement with Africa.

Signed by


Michel Chaurette, Canadian Centre for International Studies and Cooperation (CECI)

Karen Takacs, Canadian Crossroads International (CCI)

Paul van der Wel, Canadian Executive Service Organization (CESO)

Don Johnston, Canada World Youth

Jean-Marc Mangin, CUSO

Parker Mitchell, Engineers Without Borders

Pierre Veronneau, Oxfam-Québec

Suzanne Guay, Solidarité Union Coopération (SUCO)

Mary Stuart, VSO Canada

Paul Davidson, World University Service of Canada (WUSC)

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