Minister moves to silence NZAID

National has ordered its overseas aid agency NZAID not to fund or co-host a Wellington conference on international development as it moves to shift the aid programme’s focus from poverty elimination to private sector economic growth.

Labour’s associate foreign affairs spokesperson Phil Twyford said the order was just the latest act of a Government determined to turn its back on internationally agreed targets on poverty reduction.

The conference on the UN Millennium Development Goals went ahead this weekend at Victoria University funded by the British High Commission and non-government organisations. “Several NZAID staff attended the conference but bizarrely none of them spoke. You have to assume either they were silenced by the Minister or operating under self-censorship” said Twyford.

Government participation was limited to backbench MPs John Hayes and Jackie Blue who attended only the opening ceremony. “Mr Hayes outlined the Government’s plan to spend more aid on promoting business in the Pacific but had almost nothing to say about the poverty elimination targets that were the topic of the conference. He said only that if economic growth generated more wealth the targets would be more achievable.”

The Millennium Development Goals are a set of targets which including cutting poverty in half, reducing child deaths and providing universal education. They have been agreed by 192 nations including New Zealand.

Twyford said the Government seemed hell-bent on plans to ditch NZAID’s focus on poverty elimination and to disestablish the organisation, folding the aid budget back into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“I understand NZAID staff have been told that any reports or papers written for Minister Murray McCully should not include the words poverty alleviation, human rights, or gender in case they upset the Minister. This is Alice in Wonderland stuff. The Minister doesn’t want to hear anything he doesn’t like even if it represents the international consensus on what makes effective aid.”

“Economic growth is important to poverty reduction but on its own it is not enough. Without education kids in Papua New Guinea won’t get jobs. Without healthcare too many children die before they turn five. The Minister is in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Supporting business risks just making elites more wealthy. I don’t think that is what Kiwis want their overseas aid budget spent on.”