“I am tendering my resignation reluctantly, at the request of my leadership who feel it necessary to accommodate pressures of seniority in the government caucus.”
– Hugh Segal Conservative Senator and now former Chairman of The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Anyone who is familiar with political PR jargon knows that the above statement means that Mr. Segal didn’t quit because he wanted to. If you’re not familiar with PR posturing keep reading, this is likely what Segal really meant.
I have been fired for saying that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) is ineffectual and top heavy and that the government has made a grave mistake in not addressing the situation earlier.
Segal “stepped down” as Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee last Wednesday, just days after the committee tabled a report outlining the mismanagement of foreign aid by CIDA and the government titled “Overcoming 40 Years of Failure: A New Road Map for Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Liberals are alleging that Segal was axed for speaking out on this policy issue.
It seems the Conservative government is shooting the messenger.
However, the message they are trying to avoid is hardly news. CIDA has been widely criticized for years.
As the biggest development and aid agency in Canada, CIDA’s mandate is “to support sustainable development in developing countries in order to reduce poverty and to contribute to a more secure, equitable, and prosperous world.”
Since its inception in 1968, CIDA has spent about $12.4 billion in Sub-Saharan Africa and now has an operating budget of about $1.5 billion per year.
Unfortunately, it has precious few triumphs to show for it. Segal and his fellow committee members outline this in their report and also chastise governments for talking about helping Africa but not actually having any discernible effect on African development. What’s more, it recommends that the “government of Canada conduct an immediate review of whether or not this organization should continue to exist in its present non-statutory form.”
The report questions the viability of the organization in its present
incarnation and makes several recommendations should the government choose to maintain it.
One of the recommendations is for decentralization. The report states that CIDA is less dynamic and effective because it is headquartered in Ottawa. It suggests shifting operations to several offices throughout Africa. According to the report, the call to decentralize is tempered by the need to focus on fewer nations and fewer projects with more concrete results.
The report also states that CIDA needs to lead the way in reviving the Doha Development Round of World Trade Organization (WTO) trade negotiations. CIDA should push to expedite the process of eliminating export subsidies from wealthy nations that stymie African trade.
CIDA also needs to begin tackling corruption in government, as this is one of the most important barriers to sustainable development in struggling countries.
Finally the report states that there needs to be transparency with regard to the types of projects being undertaken and the allocation of funds. The organization must be held accountable for its actions.
Money is being spent at an ever increasing pace in the third world,
especially in Africa, and for the most part, to no avail.
Low literacy rates, unemployment and crime are some of the major problems and they contribute to the fact that roughly half of the 726 million people in sub-saharan Africa live in poverty. The bottom line is that through CIDA, Canada is not doing enough to help people around the world and especially in Sub Saharan Africa.
Whether CIDA needs to be dismantled and re-structured for less top heavy administration, or simply be done away with in favour of something else entirely is a complex decision, but one that must be made.
Rather than shooting the messenger, Stephen Harper should have considered the message and set in motion changes that would maximize the effectiveness of the $1.5 billion of tax payer money going to CIDA every year.
All of this is not to say that we are spending too much on foreign aid, but that we’re wasting too much of what we spend in bad administration and planning.
The government and all Canadians need to be focused both on the quantity of money being dedicated to aid, and on the quality of the result.