'International solidarity still needed'

3 November 2009

'International solidarity still needed'

SP Member of Parliament Ewout Irrgang, the party's spokesman on overseas development, intervened in last Monday's discussion of the annual budget to issue a strong plea for international solidarity. Irrgang is among a broad group of signatories to a manifesto entitled 'Aid does help' (see below). "It shouldn't be a matter of reducing aid, but of improving it," he said. "The disproportionate emphasis on unsuccessful aspects of development cooperation doesn't do justice to the need for continuing international solidarity."

Ewout Irrgang Criticism of development cooperation is, Irrgang believes, attracting a great deal of attention. Despite this, almost half of the Dutch population regularly puts its hand in its pocket to contribute to the international struggle against poverty, inequality and injustice. “I'm glad that that is so," said Irrgang. "But development aid isn't a magic wand that can wave away injustice in the world. Certainly not as long as so many structural problems remain unresolved – problems such as unfair trade and unfair international power relations, both of which are the result of policies pursued by such institutions as the IMF and the World Bank.”

Critics point to the fact that, as they see it, money spent on development aid has led to few positive results. In Irrgang's view, however, this simply means that aid must be better. "There are enough examples of 'development aid' of the kind that we should not be providing. In 2010, for instance, no less than €300 million went on debt forgiveness. This isn't aid so much as offering someone money that came out of their own pocket in the first place. And the Development Minister, Bert Koenders, is still considering giving millions of euros to the dubious regime of Abdoulaye Wade in Senegal. In view of the widespread corruption in that country, the extreme personalisation of power there and the ever diminishing press freedom, this aid is no way to promote justice. And such aid is of course grist to the mill of critics who would prefer to put an end to all development aid."

The SP argues in addition that an end must be put to projects such as Mambapoint, which in Irrgang's view is not in any way effective aid but merely a subsidy for Dutch hobbyists. Mambapoint is a so-called cross-media project to encourage cooperation between the NCDO (National Council for Sustainable Development) and national broadcaster NCRV which receives an annual subsidy of half-a-million euros to put what Irrgang calls "nice little films" on line. “I don't see how people in Africa are supposed to benefit from this," he says. "Moreover, what this amounts to is co-production of the type expressly forbidden under the media guidelines adopted last year, a ban introduced in order to guarantee the independence of public broadcasting.”

Lastly the SP wants to see cuts in subsidies to Dutch corporations, such as the millions paid out to Heineken and some of its subsidiaries in Congo and Burundi. "Subsidising a multinational which makes billions in profits isn't development aid. We should put an end to this as soon as possible.”

Initial signatories to the manifesto, the text of which is translated below, include oppositionists from the Ivory Coast and Guinea, personnel of development and environmental NGOs and the TransNational Institute (a progressive international thinktank based in Amsterdam), academics, and Members of Parliament from the SP, Green Left, PvdA (Labour Party) and Christian Union.

The manifesto: Aid does help

Criticism of development cooperation is attracting a great deal of attention. Despite this, almost half of the Dutch population is willing to contribute financially to the international struggle against poverty, inequality and injustice. We, signatories to this manifesto, involved also in the campaign to eradicate extreme poverty from the world, believe therefore that more attention should also be paid in the Netherlands to the continuing need for international solidarity. Less aid means more extreme poverty and more injustice in the world. For this reason we have drawn up the following statement of opinion:

1. Development cooperation has many positive results but is no panacea in the fight against poverty. It has never been such and never will be. As a consequence of unfair trade agreements, poor countries are deprived of the chance to develop their own economies and have at the same time insufficient access to our markets. Because of this, developing countries miss out on a great deal of revenue. This injustice must be addressed. In addition, an end must be put to western domination of international institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, which as things stand do not serve the interests of the majority of the world's population. Large-scale tax exemptions for multinationals, as well as tax evasion practised by them, cost developing countries much more money than these same countries receive in aid. At least as important as development cooperation is to ensure that these unfair power relations and structural problems in the world are changed. Development cooperation alone is not enough.

2. We know better than anyone that, due to a wide range of factors, much often goes wrong with attempts to put an end to injustice and poverty in the world. Just as in the Netherlands development projects, such as the rail links the Betuwelijn and the North-South line, sometimes come unstuck, so too in developing countries this can happen. And just as in the Netherlands fraud and corruption in the building sector have proved to be a real problem, the same can be said of developing countries. We have also learnt from this, so that, for example, development aid is now used to establish anti-corruption agencies and to support the work of independent journalists. Fortunately, the successes outweigh the failures. An example is provided by the successful treatment of millions of Africans for HIV/aids, as well as by the fight against desertification.

3. We are proud of international solidarity. There is a disproportionate emphasis on unsuccessful aspects of development cooperation. This does not do justice to the need for continuing international solidarity to offer support to millions of people throughout the world in the struggle against extreme poverty, inequality and injustice.

In the Netherlands almost half of the population annually donates money to the struggle against poverty, inequality and injustice. We call on these people not only to contribute financially to this fight, but also to let their voices be heard for international solidarity.

The original Dutch text of the manifesto can be read at www.hulphelptwel.nl

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