Today’s Hindu carries the UK government’s message for India, through Andrew Mitchell, the minister in charge of DFID. Reading the piece, I felt the minister (Secretary of State in the UK) had started off on the wrong foot by saying –
Today I want to deliver a message from the new Coalition Government of Britain directly to the millions of Indians who are battling against poverty and disease.
Surely, Mitchell hasn’t forgotten that India is not just about poverty and disease. He must then be specifically addressing the poor and vulnerable in India (who by all accounts form a significant proportion of the population).
An interesting aside here – often, opinion-pieces on any African country (or the whole continent) that focus on its poverty and deprivation gets roundly criticised for not recognising its vibrant diversity and enterprising population, among others. Some of us Indian bloggers are the exact opposite. Actually, if anyone dwells on the prosperous India, we wouldn’t miss an opportunity to criticise them for being taken by the “India Shining” jargon and of ignoring the reality of the aspiring superpower. I guess, by now, the UK has seen India long enough not to make that mistake…
So then, Andrew Mitchell goes on, treading a familiar track, talking about malnutrition, infant and maternal mortality and preventable diseases. He assures that the financial crisis won’t mean that the UK will cut down on its development assistance –
Of course, there are those who argue that in these difficult times aid and aspiration are inevitable casualties of austerity. I disagree. This is a time to reaffirm our promises to the world’s and India’s poor people, not abandon them. We won’t balance the books on the backs of the world’s poorest.
Apart from the regular spin on empowerment, Mitchell picks out direct cash transfers as a favoured mechanism DFID would like to try out.
The most impressive aspect about this message from the UK was the commitment to focus on ensuring greater transparency, which in India, rightly builds on the landmark Right to Information (RTI) Act –
In future, when we give money directly to governments in developing countries, we want to earmark up to five per cent of the total amount to help parliaments, civil society and audit bodies hold to account those who spend their money.
Acknowledging that transparency is not only for the recipient, but also an important obligation of the donor, he continues –
I’m pleased to announce a new U.K. Aid Transparency Guarantee that will help to create a million independent aid watchdogs — people around the world who can see where aid money is supposed to be going and shout if it doesn’t get there.
The Guarantee commits us to publishing full information about DFID projects and programmes, including our work in India, on our website (www.dfid.gov.uk) — in a way that is user-friendly and meaningful. Over time, we want to make that information available, in an open and standardised format to the people who depend on the funding: the communities and families living in developing countries.
The DFID is one of the biggest donors in India. Working with the government, it can definitely impact various public expenditures significantly. However, being a message from the new government in the UK, responding to India’s development needs, I expected to read about much more than just aid money. In any case, within what was said, the focus looks right.