Sweden sacks aid agency chief in major overhaul

The Swedish government has sacked the director-general of the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), Anders Nordström, and announced a major overhaul of the sternly criticised public authority.

Sweden sacks aid agency chief in major overhaul
Sweden's development aid minister Gunilla Carlsson announces overhaul

Development aid minister Gunilla Carlsson on Thursday announced a reorganisation of Sida and appointed Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, former head of Save the Children Sweden, to lead the agency in the interim.

“I am very happy that we have been able to recruit Charlotte Petri Gornitzka as interim general-director,” Gunilla Carlsson said in a press conference on Thursday.

The leadership of Sida will be soon be further strengthened by the appointment of Bo Netz, who is currently a department secretary and former acting head of treasury’s budget division.

The decision to reorganise Sida’s leadership was announced by the government earlier on Thursday morning and the minister used the mid-morning press conference to comment on the reasons behind the decision.

“In order to ensure that Sida will overcome its high-profile business, economic and organizational shortcomings, the government has today decided on measures to ensure an efficient and effective authority.”

The minister penned a deeply critical article on the Newsmill website on Wednesday arguing that Swedish development aid suffers from comprehensive structural problems.

“Unfortunately I have misjudged the extent of the development aid agency’s challenges. The Alliance government’s restructuring of Swedish development aid must therefore be intensified and the control of Sida has to be reinforced. To achieve the ambition of a development aid which optimises its benefits, full-scale changes are required.”

According to Carlsson the straw which broke the camel’s back was when it emerged that Swedish funds had been involved in corruption and fraud within the Zambian health sector over the course of several years, without the agency drawing attention to the problem.

Swedish National Audit Office (Riksrevisionen) has criticised Sida in both 2008 and 2009 for inadequate control of development aid to, among other countries, Zambia and Tanzania. The office was furthermore critical of the government for its lack of management of the agency and Gunilla Carlsson promised then to address the issue.

Sida has been battling with its finances for several years and in 2009 was obliged to seek the help of the National Financial Management Authority (Ekonomistyrningsverket – ESV) to bring order to its income and expenditure.

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Aid cuts would be ‘devastating’

Criticism of the government's foreign aid policy is mounting as Swedish ambassadors, aid organizations and politicians slam Development Aid Minister Gunilla Carlsson's announcements that development assistance to several countries may be slashed.

Aid cuts would be 'devastating'

Sweden’s ambassadors to Bolivia, Colombia and Guatemala have filed complaints with the Foreign Ministry, warning that cutting Sweden’s half-billion-kronor ($77 million) budget for aid to Latin America will have “devastating consequences”.

“The Latin American countries are not at all as poor as the countries I focus on in Africa and we do not have endless money and resources,” Carlsson told Sveriges Radio (SR).

She argued that governments in Latin American countries have access to resources and need to take responsibility for their own development.

Speaking to The Local, Annica Sohlström, director of Forum Syd – an umbrella network of 163 Swedish NGOs – called the decision to cut aid to Latin America “unfortunate”.

“Today, 75 percent of poor people live in middle-income countries, so this argument that aid should go to the poorest countries doesn’t hold up. It is the world’s poorest, no matter where they live, whom we should be helping.”

Sohlström also criticized Carlsson’s recent announcement that aid to the Palestinian territories may be slashed.

“It is unfortunate that the Palestinian people should be punished for the ongoing conflict with Israel,” she said.

Sohlström added that Swedish aid organizations work with supporting democratic processes and suggested that assistance is needed with this work in the Palestinian territories.

Carlsson also received criticism from within the Alliance government. The Centre Party’s aid policy spokeswoman Kerstin Lundgren told SR she was surprised by Carlsson’s recent announcement, saying the government is dedicated to continuing assisting the Palestinians with state-building.

Writing in newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN) Tuesday, representatives of three Swedish aid organizations criticized Carlsson and the government for a lack of transparency in formulating the Swedish aid platform and argued that too much aid money ends up staying in Sweden.

A total of 13.5 percent of the aid budget is used to finance migration-related costs. That is a fourfold increase over the past seven years.

The directors of the Swedish Mission Council (SMC, Svenska missionsrådet), the Swedish Pentecostal Churches (PMU, Pingst¬missionens Utvecklingssamarbete) and Diakonia claimed that, in the aid budget, every seventh Swedish krona stays in Sweden.

“Sweden should have a generous refugee policy, but to finance the Swedish Migration Council [Migrationsverket] with aid money aimed at poor countries is not reasonable,” they argued.

Sohlström told The Local: “We believe Swedish aid is being hollowed out. A country like Sweden should be able to afford receiving refugees but at the same time that should not happen at the cost of the poor people whom aid money is meant for.”

In April, Carlsson said that the government would change the way it determines Sweden’s aid policy. Speaking to SR, she said the government would formulate the aid policy platform internally first and then publish it online to have a continued debate with other actors.

In their DN article, the three aid organization representatives said this signals a lack of “transparency”.

Regarding aid to Latin America, Carlsson has said that the issue will be determined in the fall budget.

“Sweden cannot do everything everywhere. Are we helping poor and unfree people every day? That is the question I have to ask myself,” she said.

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