Stop wasting funds on the NCDO talking shop

16 June 2008

Stop wasting funds on the NCDO talking shop

Development Minister Bert Koenders must end the 33 million per year given to the National Committee for International Cooperation and Sustainable Development and spend the money on the real fight against poverty, argues SP Member of Parliament and development spokesman Ewout Irrgang.

By Ewout Irrgang, this article first appeared in de Volkskrant, 16th June 2008

This week in Parliament a debate is to be held on Minister for Development Cooperation Bert Koenders' decision to subsidise a section of the activities of the National Committee for International Cooperation and Sustainable Development (NCDO). The subsidies will go to support anything which tends to increase support for development cooperation, as determined by the minister himself.

The NCDO organises debates, educational activities, exhibitions, media productions and cultural projects, all aimed at increasing support for international cooperation. The organisation "involves people in the Netherlands in international cooperation and supports them with information, subsidies and advice." For this the Committee itself receives a subsidy of almost €33 million annually.


Is spending 33 million on generating more support really needed? What happens to that money? A number of examples: in 2006 the Heineken brewery corporation received €53,800 in order to develop a model to measure the firm's economic impact on the local economy in Sierra Leone. In 2007 the NCDO sent to India via fotoshop a photograph of the new Dutch cabinet in order to wish the country success in keeping to the UN's Millennium Development Goals in their fight against poverty. Cost: €60,000. For €300,000, a face-mask was distributed to mothers via flowershops, the mask carrying a message about maternal mortality.

Just three examples from the seemingly almost endless list of the downright nonsense of subsidising of multinationals, huge firms whose profits run into the billions. Spent otherwise the sums involved could have saved 12.5 million children from dying, by vaccinating them against measles and giving them mosquito nets at a cost of €2.65 per person.

Or almost a quarter of a million people could be given medication for Aids for a whole year, at a cost of €140 per person. When asked, the NCDO is unable to explain how any strengthening of support for development cooperation would be followed up. Even worse, I was recently told during a working visit to this organisation that the main goal is promote "discussion" of international cooperation. This means that both supporters and opponents of international cooperation can dip their bread in the gravy of the subsidy pot.

The Christian SGP and Aids

A poignant example is the subsidy paid out for a conference of the Telder Foundation, the research bureau of the VVD, the centre-right pro-'free market' liberal party. The VVD constantly casts doubt on the usefulness of development cooperation and wants to see economies. The subsidy for the VVD's conference would thus have led to less support for development cooperation rather than more.

Another example is the subsidy paid to the youth conference on Aids organised by the right-wing Christian party the SGP. While the international community decided in 2000 that the spread of Aids must be halted by 2015, the NCDO pays out subsidies to a political party which has great difficulty with the whole question of the use of condoms.

This is the same SGP, subsidised by Koenders, that refuses access to political life to women, although Koenders in the rest of the world is in favour of promoting women's emancipation. This is the world turned on its head.

Since when did we give millions in subsidies for nothing but talk? Money which comes, moreover, out of the funds for development cooperation and yet which in no way helps in the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals, which include the halving of extreme poverty internationally by 2015. As for 'support' itself, a great deal can be said.

Given that daily the number of initiatives for projects in developing countries grows larger, we might conclude that the involvement of the Dutch population in international cooperation is already sufficient. It has also long been well known that no correlation can be shown between the amount of money which western countries spend on development cooperation and the degree of support this enjoys in the country in question. The idea that you can buy support is, furthermore, arrogant and an insult to the electorate.

Compulsory fundraising

From a major research survey conducted in 2006 it emerged that for development organisations, doing their work well is the first condition of attracting support amongst the public. People want first of all to know whether their money has been well-spent, whether it achieved results and whether not too much of it was raked off. In that context it is significant that at a group such as the NCDO, at least eighty-eight people are employed, and that the director's salary amounts to almost €100,000 p.a. The SP argues, therefore, for the system of compulsory fund-raising by development organisations to be reviewed. As things stand, groups must raise their own funds before they become eligible for state subsidies.

It would be better to impose quality requirements and only to give money to organisations which truly aim to combat poverty. This would indeed help promote support for development cooperation. A major advantage would be that no subsidy applications of thousands of pages would need to be lodged with the ministry. In addition, the 'hungry belly ads' seen everywhere would disappear and marketing costs could be drastically reduced, making still further money available for the real combat against poverty. Koenders must end his subsidy to the NCDO and invest the resulting available funds where they were intended for, in the fight against poverty in developing countries.

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