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Andrew Mitchell’s first words

It was exciting to hear the new Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, speak at an Oxfam event around the launch of their latest report. He presented a well-rehearsed speech, stemming from the Conservative Party’s Green Paper, with a focus on results and the need to demonstrate value for money in aid, transparency through independent watchdogs, discipline, choice and empowerment. All of which is hard to find fault with — in theory at least. What remains to be seen is how this vision will be implemented, and the devil may be found in the detail. Unfortunately, he had to rush onto another meeting so was not available to respond to any questions. Various concerns, set out below, remain unanswered.

While we welcome the renewed focus on maternal health as fundamental to the achievement of virtually all the Millennium Development Goals, we urge the government to consider maternal, newborn and child health together as inseparable objectives. It is worrying that there was no mention by Andrew Mitchell of the importance of removing user fees from essential health services at the point of access, and the Centre for Progressive Health Financing — both of which the former government was honourably and vitally committed to.

Of course we agree that outputs and results are important — yet the specific indicators chosen and how they are measured will determine how effective this approach is. Further, developmental initiatives do not always provide immediate measurable outputs and “hard evidence”.

More fundamental changes can take time, yet they remain valuable and should not be neglected on this basis. Again, transparency is clearly desirable, but the emphasis should be on easy public access to useful information, rather than incomprehensible and overwhelming data simply uploaded to the internet.

We call for the Department of International Development to lead on this by publishing disaggregates of their own expenditures so that taxpayers and recipients may hold them to account. There must be a clear mechanism by which lessons that arise from evaluations feed into policy change. The new government is talking about stimulating wealth — not just redistribution. And while economic growth in low-income countries is vital to sustainable development, private enterprise should be for the benefit of recipient countries, not to profit ‘northern’ companies and basic service provision must remain the mandate of the government.

As such, talking about choice in poor resource settings is dubious; we hope that Andrew Mitchell here refers to the empowerment of communities to be involved in decisions affecting them in the broader sense, not the proliferation of private providers in basic service provision. And I could go on…

The Secretary of State shared with us the rhetoric of the Green Paper and little else; we are left to wait and see how such principles will be interpreted.

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