The two articles below explain that several of the largest NGOs in Canada have agreed to work on behalf of Canadian mining companies in assuaging opposition to mining projects in Latin America. They include PLAN Canada, World Vision and World University Services Canada.
One of the articles is an op-ed authored by Samantha Nutt. She is the founder of the NGO ‘War Child’ and author of the recently published ‘Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid.’ The book has won high praise from the likes of Lloyd Axworthy, Romeo Dallaire and other proponents of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine. However, the book expresses reservations about the doctrine, writing, in one sentence, “These kinds of rationalizations set a dangerous precedent, both for their cultural relativism and for making a moral claim in support of “preventive” war.”
‘Damned Nations’ is similar to Linda Pollman’s recent ‘The Crisis Caravan’. They expose the barbarity of modern war and the futility, or worse, of much of the foreign aid that comes to patch up the deadly aftermath. But the sources of that war–the wealthy economic powers, led by the U.S.–get lost in a kind of ‘everyone is to blame’ description that lumps in local allies or opportunists with the masters. Proposals for how the world could put an end to war are tame–create awareness, spend more on foreign aid, divest public pensions from the war industries–and the role for victims of war or natural disaster (Haiti) in liberating themselves and their countries is entirely absent.–RA
Should NGOs take the corporate bait?
By Samantha Nutt, Globe and Mail, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012
This is the third of a four-part, Globe and Mail series, ‘The New Humanitarians,’ on innovative ways to deliver aid in our conflicted world.
Every economic slump ushers in predictable, if not propagandistic, debates about Official Development Assistance, otherwise known as foreign aid. While Stephen Harper’s government has frozen aid spending through to 2015, the real anti-aid evangelicals can be found to the south, at the Republican primaries. Ron Paul, whose greatest accomplishment is that the press is still willing to hand him a microphone, has pledged to cancel American foreign aid altogether. There are, therefore, compelling reasons to consider where aid is now and where it might be headed.
The recession has been brutal to those who are reliant on humanitarian assistance for their very survival. European governments have, not surprisingly, made drastic cuts to their aid spending. So has the U.S. Congress, and many foundations are operating on reduced budgets. The effect has been that non-governmental organizations around the world are swimming in a rapidly evaporating pool of funding, raising the competitive stakes alongside a host of ethical questions.
On this point, several of the world’s leading international charities are now keeping some rather curious company, which could either represent the future of aid – a progressive merger of economic interests and social development – or its fire sale. One month ago, the Canadian International Development Agency announced a controversial multimillion-dollar grant to three leading international charities who will partner with major Canadian mining firms on development initiatives in African and Latin American countries in which these companies operate.
Under the deal, World University Services Canada, Plan Canada and World Vision Canada will receive CIDA funding totalling $6.7-million for projects with Rio Tinto Alcan, Iamgold and Barrick Gold, respectively. The largest share was for the Plan Canada-Iamgold project, which will take all but $1-million of the CIDA funding over the next five years. For their part, the three mining companies will contribute additional support just shy of $2-million. The combined annual net profit for these firms is more than $4-billion.
Now, on any given day that CIDA makes a funding announcement, the sanctimony served up by those who were overlooked is best cut with the knives sticking out of the backs of those who emerged as big winners. But this one struck at the very heart of the NGO community, leading many to shudder and ask of their colleagues, “How could you?”
Two of the participating mining firms have recently been involved in labour and human-rights disputes related to their operations abroad.
The central tension is whether these NGOs are serving as bagmen, advancing Canadian mining interests with taxpayer funding by appeasing local communities with gifts of health care and education, or whether they are simply piloting a new model of co-operation that might positively influence corporate behaviour overseas while simultaneously addressing development gaps.
Certainly the latter is what the executive director of WUSC, Chris Eaton, is hoping for. He was quoted in The Dominion newspaper expressing his sincere desire that such partnerships will “nudge along good practice.” Perhaps, but they can also buy silence in the case of bad practice, which is inherently more dangerous. And why would CIDA pick up any of the tab to improve the reputation of Canada’s mining sector abroad, if not to cement Mr. Harper’s vision for an aid policy that serves Canada’s trade and economic interests first, officially clearing the belfry of all Pearsonian bats?
Welcome to the new humanitarianism, where government funding is scarce, traditional donors are aging and more organizations are turning to corporate alliances that would once have been viewed as heresy. Yet as the aid sector goes in search of new funding models, we might do well to remember a line from the 17th-century English poet John Dryden: “Better shun the bait than struggle in the snare.”
Samantha Nutt is a founder of the NGO War Child and the author of Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid. To see a video conversation with Dr. Nutt, visit the Canadian International Council’s website at www.opencanada.org/newhumanitarians.
What is going on at CIDA?
Canada’s aid agency is becoming more politicized, less effective, and less transparent, writes Elizabeth Payne
By Elizabeth Payne, Ottawa Citizen, January 19, 2012
Something is rotten at the Canadian International Development Agency. Many things, in fact, according to increasingly vocal critics who say Canada’s international development organization is becoming more politicized, less effective, and less transparent under the Conservative government, despite persistent claims to the contrary. If CIDA has really introduced “more transparency, timeliness and predictability” as International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda claims, there is little sign of it.
Aid agencies are frustrated and demoralized by delays and lack of transparency in their dealings with CIDA. Some have cut programs and laid off staff as a result. And the government’s recent habit of prioritizing and then deprioritizing countries for foreign aid dollars makes it difficult for aid agencies to build long-term relationships and has perplexed many in the international community. Some suggest it even played a role in Canada’s failure to win a seat on the UN Security Council.
More problematic still, significant aid dollars are supporting the work of Canadian mining interests overseas, something University of Ottawa professor and CIDA critic Stephen Brown terms a blatant effort to “whitewash the negative effects of their resource extraction.”
Oda announced four CIDA projects – totalling $26.7 million – in September that will “help developing countries in Africa and South America manage their natural resources to ensure they are the source of long-term sustainable benefits to their people.” Perhaps. But these projects also help highly profitable Canadian mining companies. CIDA will provide money to help Canadian companies Rio Tinto Alcan, Barrick Gold and Iamgold create corporate social responsibility projects with aid agencies near mining projects.
The projects include one run by Plan Canada in partnership with Iamgold to provide training in Burkina Faso and another by the World University Service of Canada to provide training in Ghana, in partnership with Rio Tinto Alcan. CIDA has set aside nearly half a million dollars for a third project – in which World Vision Canada will work with Barrick Gold in Peru to “increase the income and standard of living of 1,000 families affected by mining operations.” Barrick Gold says it also contributed $500,000 to the project.
Brown calls it “scandalous” that some of the most profitable companies in Canada are, in effect, supported by foreign aid dollars to set up programs that compensate for the negative effects of mining. In a time of shrinking foreign aid dollars, taxpayers should not be on the hook for corporate social responsibility projects. The programs might be welcome and worthwhile, but they should be paid for by the companies that are reaping the profits and getting much of the credit. CIDA’s involvement in the partnerships potentially tars all Canadians, by default, for any bad corporate behaviour, or environmental damage, that results from those mining operations.
Canadian economic interests increasingly play a role in where Canadian development dollars go, say observers. KAIROS, whose clumsy defunding embroiled Oda in a scandal last year, was known to be a vocal critic of some Canadian mining operations. And Brown said CIDA’s change in focus from Africa to Latin American countries came at a time when Canada was negotiating free-trade agreements there.
In a 2010 audit, then auditor general Sheila Fraser called CIDA dysfunctional. There have been some improvements since then – it has joined the International Aid Transparency Initiative, for example – but many problems persist. It is fodder for a growing chorus arguing that CIDA should be folded into foreign affairs or drastically redesigned.
Brown says CIDA staff are more competent than they get credit for, and should be left to do their work. He blames “political manoeuvring” for lack of transparency and delays in decisions from whether to continue to give money to Planned Parenthood, to the most recent delay of funding announcements. Brown believes decisions frequently get overturned at a higher political level, or stuck.
“She must have the biggest desk in Ottawa,” he says of Oda because so many project approvals are said to be “on the minister’s desk.” Are they sitting there because she doesn’t have time to get to them, he asks, or because there is some other process in place to review CIDA decisions?
Last fall, after waiting months with no word about whether they would receive aid dollars, frustrated Canadian NGOs began quietly putting programs in developing countries on hold and cutting staff. In an email in response to questions from the Citizen, a spokesman said it took longer than expected to review proposals because of the “very high number of proposals received,” as well as the size and complexity of some of those proposals. “We need to ensure each project is an effective use of taxpayers’ resources. Our government is committed to ensuring aid dollars become more effective, focused and accountable. This process of due-diligence occasionally results in some minor delays.”
More than 210 groups were told to expect word by the end of September on whether their programs would receive CIDA funding as part of a new process that required agencies to compete with each other for CIDA dollars and match part of the funding. On Dec. 23, nearly three months after the deadline, CIDA issued a release announcing that 53 projects would receive funding. There was no explanation to applicants for the delay or why some groups, such as the Community Builders Benevolence Group, which had a private donor ready to commit $100,000 to projects in Tanzania and Haiti, didn’t make the cut.
“I am perplexed,” said Gordon K. Wiebe, who chairs the group. “This was a closed top-down process, it’s not collaborative … you are in the dark as you go into the process … it needs to change.”
Elizabeth Payne is a member of the Ottawa Citizen editorial board.