Answers sought on overseas aid uncertainty

Charities doing overseas development work are uncertain what is happening with $26 million of government funding, and say they are unable to plan until the government says what it is doing.

Concerns were raised, after Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully wrote a letter to the Council for International Development, which was then leaked to Radio New Zealand.

The broadcaster said Mr McCully wrote that the council aid programmes were out of step with the government goal of driving economic growth in Pacific and time-wasting tender processes set back relief efforts.

Council for International Development executive director David Culverhouse told Radio New Zealand that it was difficult to plan ahead.

"Change is coming, we don't know what it is, we can't plan for it."

Major work by non-government organisations (NGOs) "which in their own right raise $145 million" was in limbo as groups did not know if they would continue to get matching funding, Mr Culverhouse said.

"I can't quite see the need for this degree of uncertainty. If there were firm decisions made we could get on and implement those decisions."

Mr Culverhouse said Foreign Affairs officials on Friday pulled out of planned regional meetings for this week.

Mr McCully told the broadcaster the Government was making changes and they would be announced soon.

"We've decided to start a different process as soon as we can get some proposed criteria for redesigning of this programme into the hands of NGOs."

Mr McCully said he was looking at two funds; one of $21m and the other of $5m.

The Government did want to work with NGOs, he said.

"But there are some particular features around the $26 million and the two schemes I referred to in my letter that have drawn criticism and I believe, as we approach the end of this budget year and plan for next budget year, that that's the right time to have this discussion which we will have very promptly, I can assure you."

Mr McCully said the $26m was administered by the council.

"That's drawn criticism because obviously those who miss out on funding believe that the fact they are not on the committee has meant they have missed out so there have been issues of perceived fairness and actual fairness, there's a question of alignment with our overall objectives."

The Government last year moved aid funding agency NZAID back into Foreign Affairs and refocussed its goals on economic development as the way to lift people out of poverty, with special attention on the Pacific region.

"...we've still got rather too many of these programmes focussed on trade union rights in obscure parts of the world, rather than on stuff that's in accord with the mandate.

"We want to work with NGOs that don't have a political agenda -- we've got an agenda of assisting the poorest people in the world particularly in the Pacific."

Mr McCully said he wanted to put in place a programme with clear objectives and transparent administration.

"We don't have adequate provision for disaster relief within our own region so if we get a tsunami in Samoa or Tonga what I find is that we have to conduct a short form tender process to comply with public service rules before we can get the aid into people's hands.

"I believe we should plan for those sorts of things, have the partnerships mandated in advance and ensure that we can act more speedily when we have disasters in our regions."

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