Tuesday 20 Oct 2020 | 11:41 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 20 Oct 2020 | 11:41 | SYDNEY

Reviewing the effectiveness of aid


Jenny Hayward-Jones


25 March 2008 11:41

I often wonder why aid spending is not the subject of greater public interest in Australia. Expenditure on politicians’ overseas travel and renovations of Ambassadorial residences abroad attract more media scrutiny than much more significant government spending (just under $3 billion in 2006-07) on official development assistance.  This may change with the tabling in the federal parliament of the inaugural Annual Review of Development Assistance (ARDE) by Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Bob McMullan on 20 March. 

Although I have strong reservations about the Office of Development Effectiveness being located in AusAID, and the Development Effectiveness Steering Committee, which guides its work, being comprised only of senior public servants, I have to congratulate the ODE for a serious and honest assessment of the successes and weaknesses of the aid program. The ARDE credits Australian aid activities with good management and results but highlights the difficulties in measuring outcomes and problems with definitions of strategic objectives. Some important and alarming facts highlighted in this 60-page document include :

  • About 50 per cent of the aid program is spent on technical assistance. This is twice as much as spending on technical assistance by other donors. The effectiveness of technical assistance as a means of building sustainable local capacity is a contentious issue and is assessed by some donors as destructive.
  • Progress against achieving the Millennium Development Goals has been poor in PNG and other Pacific Island countries, the destination of 30 per cent of Australia’s aid.
  • Rural development projects were deemed the least successful in achieving objectives. -
  • The majority of the populations in countries receiving the bulk of Australian aid are dependent on rural livelihoods.
  • The objectives of many Australian aid programs are too broad and unrealistic.

A key assessment in the review for me was that poverty reduction and national development outcomes in target countries were judged to have significant shortcomings as measures of the effectiveness of Australian aid. The stated objective of the aid program is to assist developing countries to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development. So the ARDE finding raises serious questions about how best to explain the benefits of aid to Australian taxpayers and recipients of Australian aid, who tend to make judgments on tangible outcomes.

Australia is apparently only one of two donors – the other being the Netherlands – to undertake this sort of assessment of its aid program.  This inaugural review is a constructive document; let’s hope that it is used by the donor community and recipient countries to improve the impact of aid.