Mike Flynn is a frustrated man. He is a former English sector director of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP). He has more than 25 years of experience with voluntary organizations in the field of international development, social justice and public education. He lives in Montreal. He has responded to my recent blog posting about a decision by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to cut CCODP off at the knees. The organization waited anxiously for months, only to learn recently that its funding from CIDA will be chopped by two-thirds in the coming five years. CIDA had provided $44.6 million in the years 2006-11 for CCODP projects with partners in 30 of the world’s poorest countries. CIDA has decided to shave that amount to a much-reduced $14.5 million over the next five years, a catastrophic loss of $30 million.
This has thrown the organization – and its many partners in the Global South — into turmoil. Will CCODP and its local partners be able to help refugees resettle in Burundi after years of violent ethnic tensions and violence? Will CCODP and its partners continue to promote the rights of women in Bolivia and defend the rights of indigenous groups to land ownership?
I aalso described in my posting how CIDA has begun to provide grants to Canadian mining companies (along with select NGOs) to undertake “corporate responsibility” projects in poor countries. This is occurring while the organization either cuts back or ends funding to faith-based NGOs, including KAIROS and the Mennonite Central Committee. Why are CIDA and its political masters treating successful organizations and long trusted with an enviable record of performance in this way?
Mike responded to my blog posting of March 19th by writing an insightful analysis of what CIDA is doing and why. I invited him to revise it slightly in the form of a guest column and he generously agreed. Here is what he has to say:
Mike Flynn’s analysis
This is the end product of a series of Conservative government policy and process changes intended to refocus Canada’s international development efforts away from peoples’ needs to the benefit of commercial interests. The intention is to redirect Canadian assistance away from needy nations to those more likely to turn a profit for Canada. It aims to abandon Canada’s traditional role of promoting democracy and citizen participation in the South to one that champions the creation of capital friendly mechanisms of compliance and control.
The recently announced Canadian NGO/mining sector partnerships are a stark example of this shift. To add insult to injury, the policy shift effectively serves to hijack publicly contributed counterpart funds (money that people donate to NGOs) into government service. At the same time our government is binding the participating agencies to foreign policy objectives that are not compatible with the best interests of the poor that the original donors set out to support.
CIDA’s process ideological
Premised on the oxymoronic notion that competition is the new path to international cooperation, the Harper government’s recent overhaul of CIDA’s application process is unabashedly ideological. The process is ripe for political manipulation, and incompatible with the objective of building an informed and capable civil society able to defend the interests of the poor in the South. There was a time when CIDA’s NGO division encouraged citizen involvement in international development, fostered and strengthened links between people and civil society organizations internationally, and helped Canadian NGOs increase their capacity and impact in the South.
The Harper government’s strategy is now designed to corral voluntary sector energy into the service of government by subverting it to trade and commercial interests that serve the rich.
This dismantling of the traditional fairness, professionalism and predictability of Canada’s international assistance program has been accomplished with little public knowledge, fanfare, or debate. The development community fought the good fight against tied aid some twenty years ago. It, along with the Canadian public, lowered its guard and allowed private corporate interests, their apologists and ideologues to reassert control over the miniscule budget set aside to assist the poor, and to effectively redirect it to their own ends.
What is more, the new process pits agency against agency in competition for declining CIDA dollars. This is a strategy that threatens to dismantle irreplaceable networks and partnerships built up over decades, as agencies are forced to prioritize and retool in an effort to win coveted CIDA contracts.
The competitive character, exaggerated confidentiality, and overall lack of transparency attached to these measures do double duty by silencing agency criticism of government policies. This occurs out of fear of retribution at the hands of an increasingly arbitrary and unabashedly vindictive government in a context where the rules of the game are anything but clear.
As it now stands, the track record of development NGOs, their partnership networks and development expertise are all relegated to a second-tier in an increasingly politicized CIDA decision-making process presided over by Minister Bev Oda. With the Conservative government’s refusal to fund traditional clients like KAIROS, and in light of CIDA’s decision to cut back Development and Peace, even the most progressive and critical elements within the NGO community now find themselves engaging in self-censorship as funding agreements come up for renewal.
Those of you who have contributed as little as a dollar to an international development agency this past year have every reason to be concerned.
Even as Mike Flynn was writing this analysis, a group of CCODP’s members and supporters were creating a FACEBOOK site and are organizing to protest against CIDA’s cutbacks. But social media is a tool, not a campaign in itself. Activists are organizing fast throughout the day on Good Friday in the Christian calendar (April 6th). They are asking supporters to collect the money their households might have spent on food that day and to donate it to CCODP.
Organizers are asking supporters take other actions as well:
— Writing to Prime Minister Harper at email@example.com, protesting against the cuts to CCODP, which will hurt development efforts in the Global South, and asking that this CIDA decision be reversed
— Informing Catholics in the pew about the fast to protest against the cuts
— Donating generously on Solidarity Sunday (March 25th) when CCODP has its annual Share Lent collection
— Requesting that local Catholic bishops participate in the Good Friday fast, and also release public letters protesting against the government’s action (by writing to the PM) and encouraging Catholics to support CCODP.