Aid and development in Pakistan

ImageThe International Select Committee on International Development publishes its Pakistan report at midnight GMT tonight. It is expected to focus on whether Pakistan is doing enough to tackle corrupution and taxation – and whether the UK’s Department for International Development is doing enough to nudge Islamabad along.

My colleague David Blair sets out some of the arguments about aid and development in today’s Telegraph, suggesting the huge injection of cash (rising to £450m a year by 2015) is an experiment:

So we are about to discover what happens when a big country gives pro-aid campaigners just about everything they have wanted for years. Now we should find out whether aid does indeed “work”.

Whether or not aid does indeed “work” depends on what you want it to do, as I set out here:

Our cash will send millions of young Pakistanis to school. Will it ease the threat to Britain or help Pakistan to prosperity? Will it stop young men blowing themselves up at Shia mosques in Lahore? Will the schools even stay open when the aid cash has moved on to another priority?

If we want aid to stimulate development then we will get nowhere unless Pakistan makes reforms of its own. Development takes domestic leadership and, in the case of Pakistan, reform on tax in particular. DfID knows this, which is why it has always linked the huge rise in aid to domestic reforms. When Justine Greening arrived in Pakistan in January, the Foreign Office (oddly not DfID) issued the following:

The UK’s aid programme is linked to the Government of Pakistan’s progress on results and reform at both the Federal and Provincial levels, particularly following the upcoming elections. Discussions between the UK’s Development Secretary and Minister of Finance focused on steps being taken to build a more dynamic economy, strengthen the country’s tax base and tackle corruption.

Exactly what this means is anyone’s guess. Repeated attempts to unpick this paragraph and find out what this “link” is have got me nowhere. Are there targets? Is there a timeframe? Do we expect the proportion of GDP collected as tax to rise from its measly 9%? Has Pakistan made progress in the two and half years since Andrew Mitchell referred to this link? DfID isn’t saying.

Of course, donors no longer like conditionality – a list of targets that have to be met in order to secure cash. That smacks of clientelism. But I can’t help but think that this vague formulation of words also lets the Pak government off the hook. How do we know if Islamabad is meeting the need for reforms if we don’t know what reforms are expected?

And if so, we are pouring money into an unsustainable development programme which is allowing the Pakistani government to shirk its responsibilities.

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