HRW declares war with Mitchell over Ethiopia aid claims

The powerful NGO says the international development secretary has been "disingenuous" and "misleadin

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, of being "disingenuous" and "misleading" about the misuse of aid in Ethiopia.

Last month, an investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Newsnight revealed that the Ethipian government was using long-term development aid for political purposes. It found that communities considered loyal to the opposition had been denied food aid, seed and fertiliser.

Appearing on Newsnight last Wednesday, Mitchell stated that no British development support goes through the government of Ethiopia. He also said that officials had conducted an on-the-ground investigation and found no evidence of the systemic misuse of food aid.

This is where HRW got involved. Jan Egeland, the deputy executive director for HRW Europe, has written an open letter questioning Mitchell's comments. It uses exceptionally strong language, and is unprecedented in accusing a secretary of state of being misleading, and implying he has bowed to pressure from the Ethiopian government. Here are the highlights:

You said in the Newsnight interview that DFID officials had investigated the allegations but, "found no evidence at all of systemic misuse of food support." However, . a proper investigation capable of drawing conclusions about the nature of abuses by the Ethiopian government would need to be conducted at the field level, and our understanding is that no such investigation has been undertaken.

. . .

Your claim that no British support goes through the Ethiopian government is disingenuous. The vast majority of British support to Ethiopia passes through the government.

. . .

We recognise that the Ethiopian government is extremely resistant to scrutiny. Nonetheless, the British government and other donors to Ethiopia should not allow the Ethiopian government to dictate the terms on which public British money is monitored, and every effort should be made to prevent British development aid from strengthening authoritarian rule and repression.

The letter goes on to explain that the Ethiopian federal government is responsible for administering and monitoring the largest development programme, which the British Ambassador to Ethiopia said was "budget support in all but name".

Mitchell has replied:

As I have made clear, the British government does not agree with all of your assertions nor your conclusions. We also do not believe the report is methodologically sound.

Human Rights Watch is an organisation for which I have profound respect and admiration.

But it is important not to overstate criticisms in an unbalanced manner, the effect of which will be to undermine the vital work HRW carries out in other parts of the world.

You point out in your letter that the Ethiopian government must not dictate the terms on which British public money is monitored. I am happy to confirm that this is not the case.

After Mitchell's Newsnight appearance, a DfID official confirmed that the investigation he referred to was actually a desk study conducted from Addis Ababa. It looks as if the matter will not be resolved until a full on-the-ground investigation is carried out.

UPDATE - 3.20pm: I've been contacted by DfID, who said that the statement read out on Newsnight (regarding the desk study) was inaccurate. The following clarification was read out on Friday's programme:

The Department for International Development has confirmed that, as Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell made clear on Wednesday's programme, DFID officials in Ethiopia did make regular field visits to look into the allegations of aid distortion.

Those field visits -- and dozens of similar visits by other donor agencies -- made clear that there was no systemic distortion for political reasons in the distribution of aid.

 

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Sooner or later, a British university is going to go bankrupt

Theresa May's anti-immigration policies will have a big impact - and no-one is talking about it. 

The most effective way to regenerate somewhere? Build a university there. Of all the bits of the public sector, they have the most beneficial local effects – they create, near-instantly, a constellation of jobs, both directly and indirectly.

Don’t forget that the housing crisis in England’s great cities is the jobs crisis everywhere else: universities not only attract students but create graduate employment, both through directly working for the university or servicing its students and staff.

In the United Kingdom, when you look at the renaissance of England’s cities from the 1990s to the present day, universities are often unnoticed and uncelebrated but they are always at the heart of the picture.

And crucial to their funding: the high fees of overseas students. Thanks to the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge in television and film, the wide spread of English around the world, and the soft power of the BBC, particularly the World Service,  an education at a British university is highly prized around of the world. Add to that the fact that higher education is something that Britain does well and the conditions for financially secure development of regional centres of growth and jobs – supposedly the tentpole of Theresa May’s agenda – are all in place.

But at the Home Office, May did more to stop the flow of foreign students into higher education in Britain than any other minister since the Second World War. Under May, that department did its utmost to reduce the number of overseas students, despite opposition both from BIS, then responsible for higher education, and the Treasury, then supremely powerful under the leadership of George Osborne.

That’s the hidden story in today’s Office of National Statistics figures showing a drop in the number of international students. Even small falls in the number of international students has big repercussions for student funding. Take the University of Hull – one in six students are international students. But remove their contribution in fees and the University’s finances would instantly go from deficit into debt. At Imperial, international students make up a third of the student population – but contribute 56 per cent of student fee income.

Bluntly – if May continues to reduce student numbers, the end result is going to be a university going bust, with massive knock-on effects, not only for research enterprise but for the local economies of the surrounding area.

And that’s the trajectory under David Cameron, when the Home Office’s instincts faced strong countervailing pressure from a powerful Treasury and a department for Business, Innovation and Skills that for most of his premiership hosted a vocal Liberal Democrat who needed to be mollified. There’s every reason to believe that the Cameron-era trajectory will accelerate, rather than decline, now that May is at the Treasury, the new department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy doesn’t even have responsibility for higher education anymore. (That’s back at the Department for Education, where the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, is a May loyalist.)

We talk about the pressures in the NHS or in care, and those, too, are warning lights in the British state. But watch out too, for a university that needs to be bailed out before long. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.