The Conservative government’s shoe is dropping on some long established foreign aid groups while it privileges others. Mennonite Central Committee Canada reports on its website that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has turned down MCC’s proposal of $2.9 million for each of the next three years to provide food, water and income generation assistance for people in India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Haiti, Bolivia, Mozambique and Ethiopia. MCC is a long-time partner of CIDA’s in overseas development projects. The organization is highly respected and is scrupulously non-partisan in its approach to governments and development.
One is left to wonder who is next. Elizabeth Payne, who writes for the Ottawa Citizen reports that dozens of groups, told to expect word on funding by last September, were still waiting in December. Some of those organizations quietly began putting their programs on hold and releasing staff. While they were waiting, CIDA announced $26 million in other projects, including partnerships with several Canadian mining companies and other NGOs to promote “corporate social responsibility projects” in Burkina Faso, Peru and Tanzania.
Perhaps MCC’s misdemeanour in CIDA’s eyes was its campaign called Mining Justice. “Canadian mining operations around the world are a mixed blessing,” the organization says on its website. “On the one hand, mines provide jobs, they invest in a host nation’s economy, and often contribute towards schools, clinics and other projects. But there is another side. Jobs are often short-lived and the financial benefits to the economy are meager. Mines often displace people from their homes, destroy land, and contaminate water supplies. Frequently, the people who occupy the land – often, Indigenous peoples – are not adequately consulted. Sometimes, Canadian mining operations contribute to human rights violations, violence and armed conflict . . . MCC does not have all the answers, but we have committed ourselves to a journey for mining justice.”
Don Peters, MCC Canada executive director, says on the organization’s website that MCC will now explore other options to fill the annual $2.9 million funding gap. But he says that some MCC programs “may be temporarily delayed or scaled back.” The organization says that last year it had personnel in 48 countries and income of about $76 million. It will continue to receive some CIDA money for projects in Haiti and elsewhere.
Frustrated and demoralized
The Ottawa Citizen reports that, “Aid agencies are frustrated and demoralized by delays and lack of transparency in their dealings with CIDA.” The story says that the agency’s critics accuse it of becoming more politicized, less effective and less transparent.
This criticism was echoed in an article in Embassy magazine last fall. Ian Smillie, an Ottawa-based author and international aid consultant, and Professor Stephen Brown at Ottawa University, wrote that Canada has shifted its aid priorities so that “middle-income countries like Colombia and Peru have replaced low-income African countries as CIDA priorities, a move aimed primarily at greasing the skids for Canadian commercial interests.”
They write that the relationship between most Canadian development NGOs and CIDA has been deteriorating. “CIDA has become much more directive in its funding of NGOs, throwing out the window those it doesn’t like and pushing others towards its own geographic and sectoral priorities. Increasingly, NGOs are being treated like contractors, rather than development actors in their own right.”
Trade is aid
CIDA minister Bev Oda has vigorously defended that approach and her agency’s new partnership with the Canadian mining industry. “It’s another way of improving the effectiveness of CIDA’s work,” she told the Ottawa Citizen in an interview. Asked how she separates Canada’s trade and foreign policy interests from its program of aid, she said, “I really don’t separate them.”
A friendly note
MCC has lost much of its CIDA funding and word is that a number of other agencies are in line for similar news. If you have any information on that, please provide it in the Comments section below. Should you wish to send Ms. Oda a friendly note, you can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org