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UK To India: Please, Take The Money, We’re Begging You

India told the UK last year that it could keep the foreign aid money Britain sends each year to its former imperial possession.  According to the Telegraph, Pranab Mukherjee, India’s finance minister and the head of the powerful lower house of its parliament told the Brits bearing gifts: “It is a peanut in our total development exercises [expenditure]” and asked the Brits to keep their nuts to themselves.

The response of the British foreign aid mandarins wasn’t to return the money (about £280 million per year or $440 million) to hard pressed British tax payers, use it to pay down the deficit or protect some agencies from budget cuts or even to regift it to some poorer, needier country than India where it might make a real difference.

Instead, they begged the Indians to keep taking the aid money.  It would be embarrassing, they said, to have it turned down.  Not embarrassing internationally, mind you, but embarrassing domestically to the British politicians who rammed the aid through Parliament.  The voters might think they were useless twits wasting taxpayer money on development projects so pointless that the recipients didn’t want them.

Graciously, Mr. Mukherjee relented, and India pocketed the cash.

Actually, a number of people in India pocketed the cash.  An Indian government audit found that £70 million mysteriously vanished from a British-funded aid project. Another triumph of British aid cleverness:

Hundreds of thousands of pounds was spent on delivering more than 7,000 televisions to schools — most of which did not have electricity. Few of the televisions ever arrived. A further £44,000 of British aid was allegedly siphoned off by one project official to finance a movie directed by her son.

Britain is the largest donor of official bilateral aid to India; the second largest is our own dear Uncle Sugar.

“Development” projects sometimes achieve significant results, but countries like India are rich enough and proud enough to undertake their own projects in their own way.  Growing numbers of voices in the developing world are attacking the concept of government to government aid; for one thing, it tends to prop up elites and incumbents at the expense of opposition forces. For another, the objectives of these programs are often muddy, and the western world switches in and out of development fads with bewildering speed.

As the world changes, models of “aid” that track back to the Cold War need to be rethought.  Much of the “third world” is sophisticated and rich enough now to take care of its own affairs; many of the other countries are so badly governed and so corrupt that billions in aid can’t really help.

There are good reasons why countries give aid to other countries, and Via Meadia thinks a scalpel rather than a hatchet is the best tool to take to the aid budget.  Furthermore, there are some programs — like scholarships for foreign students to study in US universities — that greatly benefit Americans as well as the recipients. State Department exchanges that bring journalists and other opinion leaders from other countries to the US do a great deal of good.

But when countries don’t want the money, we shouldn’t force it down their throats.  The American ambassador to India should ask Mr. Mukherjee if US aid is as useless as Britain’s.  If the answer is yes, let’s grit our teeth, live with the humiliation, and use the money for something else.

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  • Anthony

    “As the world changes, models of aid that track back to the Cold War need to be rethought.” The aforementioned pretty much sums it up; yet, pounds/dollars will continue to be used as diplomatic leverage even as we transition into “new era” (soft power).

  • Mrs. Davis

    Bribes did not begin with the cold war. but that’s when they became less odious.

  • Sushil Kr. Mittal

    Dear sir,

    India is now self sufficient developed country, we are not receiving as a donation but only part of interest which Britisher’s took long back.

  • Some Sock Puppet

    I think we could rephrase that as: “Since you can’t be bothered to assist us ie: Iran, you can use that money to take care of yourself. And while we’re at it, those nuke plants? Yeah, forget it.”

    They’re worried about China, and they continually choose a contrarian proposition with a power that would gladly make them rich, prosperous and secure.

    Of course, we could be exporting thatshale oil we’ve got everywhere and sell it to India and make it more attractive to them to cut off Iran, but again, they’re very contrarian. I get the impression India does not like the US very much.

  • carvaka

    going by the comments from british politicians including the PM – mainly after the MMRCA announcement , it seems british political thought and world view has not evolved in the last 100 years.

    i was actually in two minds whether to get irritated or amused with the comments .

    if they want influence in india , they need to understand india.

  • carvaka

    @ Some Sock Puppet

    India likes the US – even during the cold war. the reason is there are indeed some qualities of US which India relates to.

    But that doesn’t mean India will follow US – blind to her own national interest.
    let’s compare the two situation pakistan and iran. US didn’t try to stop pakistan to get the nukes despite fully knowing what they were up to. because at that time US’s primary interest was USSR in afghanistan. think about the security consequence to india.
    india doesn’t want iran to have nukes. but india has a different priority list. iran not only is the second biggest source of hydrocarbon (at a concessional price at present), they are also our getway to central asia and afghanistan.

  • thibaud

    “countries like India are rich enough and proud enough to undertake their own projects in their own way”

    … ain’t too proud to steal
    sweet darlin’
    please don’t leave me
    don’t you go

  • Jim.


    Do you happen to know a good book that tracks the history of Britain’s foreign subsidies? Their cash payments to Prussia (particularly those in support of Frederick the Great in the 18th century and funding opposition to Napoleon in the early 19th) were critical in maintaining balance of power on the Continent.

    These subsidies were not seen as gracious gifts from a superior to an inferior; they were seen as providing means for two powers to achieve their mutual goals. (I think they were always surprised that the US wouldn’t simply finance WWI; the Marshall Plan was much more in this vein.)

    It seems that Britain has lost track of what it’s really trying to accomplish. In this era people tend to think “aid, that’s like humanitarian stuff or something, right?”

    Burn away the fluff, guys, figure out what your critical interests are, and figure out how to pursue them. The British government in previous centuries was just *better* at all this than they are these days.

  • thibaud

    Transparency International’s survey ranks India at 95 (out of 168) in terms of corruption – tied with Albania, Swaziland, Tonga and something called Kiribati

  • Lorenz Gude

    Has Cameron’s Conservative government fallen victim to a mutant strain of Post Colonial Guilt? But seriously, I’ve seen aid misused wholesale in just this way first hand in Zimbabwe. I recall a case of the Germans sending trucks, not money, and mechanics to maintain and guard same. They quickly got parted out anyway. Putting the money to things like funding students to study abroad seem a better choice.

  • Shiblee

    Western World Aid does not help any poor country . Moreover money is spent to protect Imperialist ‘s interest .

  • Lorenz Gude

    Islands are funny things. There is no dispute about their extent even if there are plenty of different opinions about the fishing rights and the ‘awl’. So they can become symbols whose emotional importance far outweighs their intrinsic import. Quemoy and Matsu and the 1960 Nixon Kennedy debates come to mind.

  • f1b0nacc1

    Paging Sir Humphrey…

  • Tom Richards

    This is entirely about domestic politics: Cameron has been obsessed with “detoxifying” the Conservative brand and breaking its association with “nastiness” ever since he took over as party leader. Ring-fencing international aid against budget cuts was a high profile part of this purely party political strategy. Moreover, he is now in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, whose deluded supporters would for the most part scream blue murder at the merest suggestion of cuts to aid.

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