Here at the Global Poverty Project we’re often asked challenging questions about the effectiveness of Australia’s aid program. Many of our supporters are concerned that sending expatriates to developing countries to work on projects undermines the experience of local communities and fosters dependency.
In the past, AusAid’s tendency to use Australian consultants in development projects has led to criticism of Australia’s foreign aid programme in research and the media, and even to the coining of the term ‘boomerang aid’ – referring to aid money provided to developing countries that ends up back in Australia because it is paid to the Australian consultants and companies contracted to provide services.
It’s for this reason that we welcome the announcement made early last week that the Australian government has accepted recommendations to reduce the number of technical adviser positions in the Australian aid program.
The decision was the result of a review of adviser positions that began in May 2010. It reviewed 952 positions across 20 country programs and suggested that 257 positions – a quarter of all advisers – would be phased out with the next two years, and a cap placed on maximum salaries paid to consultants. The funds previously spent on these expensive consultant services will now be reassigned to higher-priority programs, such as basic education and health service delivery and training.
While we recognise that advisers play an important role in development, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected countries, we welcome this decision as a positive step towards focusing aid on enhancing the capacity of local organisations and staff. In the past, the use of expatriate advisers in aid programs has often been considered the ‘default option’- even when other alternatives have been available.
We believe utilising and building the skills and expertise of local people is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty. It’s encouraging to see that Australia’s aid program is looking at alternative ways to build the capacity of developing communities and reducing its reliance on in-country advisers. It’s also an encouraging sign that the government hears the public’s calls for our aid program to be focused on achieving development outcomes, rather than the service of Australia’s national interest.
We hope that further improvements in the delivery of Australia’s aid will introduced as a result of the Government’s independent review of aid effectiveness, which will be completed in April 2011. The Global Poverty Project recently submitted a submission to this review, calling for improvements to the structure and coordination of the Aid Program. You can find out more by reading our submission here.