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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Interns ran Swedish aid projects: report

The Foreign Ministry has criticized its handling of its own portion of Sweden's foreign aid budget, with large-scale Swedish NGO umbrella organization Forum Syd condemning the report as "a slap in the face".

Interns ran Swedish aid projects: report

The internal report looked at how the ministry managed the 12 billion kronor ($1.87 billion) it contributes directly to foreign aid projects. The report did not examine projects funded and managed directly by Sida, Sweden’s primary foreign aid agency.

The reviewers examined some 70 cases over the past few years. Two-thirds failed to get a passing grade when examined on the project’s aim, how it was prepared, documented and lastly, followed up. The report authors also found several cases where interns had been given administrative powers.

Gunilla Carlsson, the former aid minister who was in charge of Sweden’s foreign aid operations during the time reviewed in the report, admitted on Thursday evening that her drive to make the processes of allocating and managing aid more clear had not been enough.

“I didn’t reach all the way,” Carlsson, who left her post one month ago, told the Expressen newspaper.

“As the responsible minister one has responsibility. And it was very clear to me, and I’ve said over and over again, that there were shortcomings that needed to be dealt with.”

Carlsson further commented that the different revenue streams to Sweden’s national aid work was confusing, and said she hoped that the ministry would end up handing over control to the national aid agency Sida.

“Hopefully, that process will now speed up, as we have evidence about the shortcomings that we still need to address,” Carlsson told Expressen.

Annica Sohlström, secretary general of NGO aid umbrella organization Forum Syd, reacted angrily to the report.

“It risks hollowing out the trust also in other players within the foreign aid community,” Sohlström told the TT news agency. “Especially when it turns out that at the top they don’t have a handle on money and procedures.”

Furthermore, Sohlström expressed anger that Carlsson and her ministry had put enormous pressure on Forum Syd to make its accountability structure stronger.

“Gunilla Carlsson’s mantra has been internal direction and control, that we should be able to show where every single krona goes, and to be able to show up our results,” Sohlström explained. “That makes it even more noteworthy that the foreign ministry doesn’t have a grasp on its work.”

Neither the foreign minister nor the prime minister said they were aware of the report, but both denied that internal critique had spurred on Carlsson’s exit from the ministry last month. Hillevi Engström, the former labour minister who picked up Carlsson’s portfolio when she left, said she had not read the report.

Sweden’s total development aid budget for 2013 is about 38.2 billion kronor, according to Sida, with about 18 billion kronor administered directly by the agency.

TT/The Local/at

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