Sweden’s Minister for International Development Cooperation, Gunilla Carlsson, has called for an open debate over the role of development aid in the wake of a corruption scandal in Zambia.
“Could it be that the development aid is not a part of a possible solution, but in fact part of the problem?” Carlsson asks in an article published on debate website Newsmill on Monday morning.
“We must, as one of the world’s largest providers of development aid, venture to ask this question,” she continues.
Carlsson poses the question in response to revelations of a major scandal in Zambia involving the theft of around 50 million kronor ($7.1 million) from projects supported with Swedish money in the country’s health ministry.
Sweden has supported Zambia with development aid since independence in 1964 and the incident has given Carlsson cause to question the whole idea and purpose of this type of support.
“The biggest threat to efficient development aid is the incidence of corruption where it is applied. Scandals are exposed at regular intervals, but can we make sure that everything is caught by our system, and if so, how?”
Carlsson presents a review of the changes the government has introduced to the administration of Swedish development aid over the three years since gaining power.
Among the changes are the focus of aid on quality projects in a smaller group of recipient countries, a review and reform of the Swedish aid organs, and a report that has been presented to parliament detailing the actual impact of aid expenditure.
Carlsson also explains that Sweden has clarified the overarching priorities for development aid: democracy and human rights, the environment and climate, equality and the role of women in development.
Carlsson continues to write that she is not satisfied with these changes alone and underlines her dual responsibility – to the Swedish taxpayer and to the poor in the developing world today.
“I will not be happy until I can guarantee, or at least convincingly demonstrate, that Swedish development aid actually contributes to the reduction of poverty, to freedom, and to progress in developing countries,” she states.
Returning to the Zambian case, Carlsson praises the Zambian anti-corruption bureau for responding to a report from an insider that money had gone missing. At the same time she expresses despair that there has been little debate on the issue in donor countries.
“How much time would have passed before we as a donor would ourselves have noticed something if it had not been for this ‘whistle-blower’?”
Carlsson argues that the experience has told her that poverty and corruption often go hand in hand. She cites anti-corruption group Transparency International who argue that continued high levels of corruption in developing countries risk prompting a “humanitarian catastrophe.”
Gunilla Carlsson concludes by promising to open a debate on Tuesday on the issue of corruption and proposed changes to Sweden’s development aid apparatus in general.
She calls on all parties to examine these questions in a vigorous and open debate and urges that “it is time to see the reality as it is.”
“I therefore ask for help and welcome all of you who care about the struggle against poverty and the administration of development aid to take part in this next stage of the work to create a ‘smart aid’ which works, in reality.”